Dion says director's comment was misinterpreted
Published Friday, September 28, 2007 10:12PM EDT
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion spent his 52nd birthday trying to keep party seams in Quebec from unravelling after party members in the province targeted one of his closest associates.
Senior members of the party's management committee demanded Thursday that Dion fire Liberal Party national director Jamie Carroll over remarks he is purported to have made about hiring more bilingual Quebecers for Dion's entourage.
"As I understand, no such comment has been said," Dion said Friday at a Nova Scotia Tim Hortons on Friday.
"A comment may have been misinterpreted, but I have confidence in Jamie Carroll. I know how much the Quebec distinctiveness, the cause of the French language and the multicultural reality of Canada is key for him."
Carroll was hand-picked by Dion and is one of his closest allies.
According to witnesses and a Montreal newspaper report, Carroll suggested that if he hired more Quebecers, he'd also have to hire more Chinese staffers.
The president of the Liberal Party's Quebec wing, Robert Fragasso, was at the closed-door meeting earlier this week where the remarks were said to have been made. He said Carroll was out of line.
"These were comments that horrified me, that disgusted me, to tell you the truth," Fragasso told The Globe and Mail.
"It's unacceptable ... I will ask for his resignation."
Some witnesses, however, said Carroll only said that if he hired more Quebecers he may also have to hire more members of ethnic groups.
"He talked about the need to reach out to all ethnic groups in the country, but not in a comparison with anybody or any groups. He didn't say anything that would have been insulting to anybody," Derek Wells, president of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party, told reporters on Friday.
Carroll issued a statement Thursday saying his comments were taken out of context. He noted that members of the management committee agreed to increase the number of Quebec francophones and maintain the party's commitment to bilingualism.
"Any suggestion that I believe otherwise is quite simply a misrepresentation of the facts," the statement said.
Dion has rejected the calls for his national director's resignation, saying he doesn't believe Carroll made the comments that are being attributed to him.
The embattled Dion has suffered several blows recently, including losses in three Quebec byelections and the withdrawal of two key candidates in the province.
Dion's leadership suffered another blow on Thursday when Paul Leduc, former mayor of a Montreal suburb, announced he won't be running for the party.
Leduc said he was selected as a candidate by the provincial election commission in April, but Dion left him hanging all summer. He suggested Dion's leadership is rife with "inaction and indecision."
Earlier in the week, astronaut Marc Garneau announced he would not be running as a Quebec candidate in the next federal election, saying he had offered to run for Dion's Liberals twice, and had received no decision either way.
On Friday, Dion rebuffed suggestions that his party was split.
"We are a great united party," he told CTV News.
Meanwhile, deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff called on members Thursday night in Sarnia, Ont. to pull together. He said Liberals win when united, but lose when divided, according to The Canadian Press.
With reports from CTV's Jed Kahane, CTV Atlantic's Rick Grant and files from The Canadian Press