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500 pages of Harper's most controversial quotes compiled by Tories

A 500-page dossier of potentially damaging remarks by Stephen Harper has hit the election campaign, but don't blame the opposition parties — it was prepared by the Conservatives.

The thick binder of material, obtained by the Liberals, is a treasure trove of controversial Harper quotes, listed alphabetically by subject matter. It covers everything from abortion to western alienation and dates as far back as the 1980s.

The fact that the Tories felt compelled to research their own leader suggests they believed Harper's past penchant for blunt, uncompromising talk could pose a problem on the campaign trail.

The files include this 2002 boast from Harper, then a leadership contestant: "I'm not ashamed to say that, in caucus, I have more pro-life MPs supporting me than supporting Stockwell Day."

There's also his 1995 assertion that "providing for the poor is a provincial, not a federal responsibility."

And the 1999 argument that Quebec's language law was designed by the Parti Quebecois "to suppress the basic freedoms of English-speaking Quebecers and to ghettoize the French-speaking majority into an ethnic state."

All parties' go to enormous effort digging up damaging comments by rival leaders and candidates, which they take great glee in exposing at the most inopportune moments. But it's unusual to see a party collect its own leader's questionable quotes.

The research was begun in 2003 by Harper's former chief of staff, Tom Flanagan, who appears to have believed the old adage that forewarned is forearmed.

"When I became chief of staff in 2003, one of the first things I did was organize a 'Harper research' program to collect everything he had ever written or said in public," Flanagan wrote in his 2007 book "Harper's Team."

Flanagan declined to comment Monday on the binder of material obtained by the Liberals.

However, a Tory source who was familiar with the research project said the binder appears to be genuine. It includes an initial 359 pages of quotes, which were supplemented by about 100 more pages in two instalments in July 2003 and January 2004.

A cover note on the 2004 instalment says the quotes "that have the potential to be the most problematic are the quotations dealing with health care."

Some of those comments have already been mined by opposition parties to cast doubt on Harper's commitment to maintaining Canada's universal, publicly funded health-care system. Other quotes, in which Harper extols the virtues of allowing private, for-profit health delivery and a parallel private health-care system, seem to have gone largely unnoticed.

There's his 2002 assertion that "the private provision of publicly insured services should be permitted. The monopoly of provision of services is not a value that, in and of itself, is worth preserving."

Or his lament, also in 2002, that the Canada Health Act "rules out private, public-delivery options, It rules out co-payment, pre-payment and all kinds of options that are frankly going to have to be looked at if we're going to deal with the challenges that the system faces."

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