Friday, April 6, 2007

Harper critic dismissed ....

Harper critic loses lobby group job
Staffer at NCC says he's in a `state of shock' at dismissal

Apr 05, 2007 TheTorontoStar

OTTAWA–A right-wing lobby group once run by Stephen Harper has dismissed a senior staffer who is highly critical of the now-prime minister's Conservative government.

Gerry Nicholls was executive director of the National Citizens Coalition until yesterday when, he says, president Peter Coleman informed him that "I was no longer part of their plans."

"All I can say is I definitely did not quit," said Nicholls, who said he was in a "state of shock" after receiving the news. "I've been there for 22 years."

Asked if his recent denouncements of the Harper government's free-spending ways had played any role in his departure – which the NCC denies – Nicholls said that because lawyers are involved in his talks with his former employer, "I really can't comment, I can't talk about anything."

"It's very frustrating. I did a lot of work there and I helped make the organization really."

Coleman denied that Nicholls' criticism of the Harper government had anything to do with the organization's decision, saying it "was the kind of thing we actually encourage."

"We would never muzzle anybody and if anybody in the Conservative party called me and told me to not say something I'd tell them to get lost, quite frankly," Coleman told the Star.

Nicholls' years at the NCC included the time Stephen Harper was president during the hiatus he took from elected politics.

As a Reform party MP from Calgary, Harper had disagreements with then-leader Preston Manning and decided not to run in the 1997 election.

He then took the top job at the NCC. Harper left in 2002 to run for the leadership of Reform's successor, the Canadian Alliance.

Since Harper became prime minister last year, Nicholls has criticized him for curbing political donations, for failing to reform laws banning third-party election advertising and for abandoning the tax-cutting, smaller-government agenda he said Harper used to stand for.

After the Conservatives' March 19 budget, Nicholls wrote on a blog posted on the group's website: "Somebody remind me again, who is running the federal government, Conservatives or Liberals? I have to ask because today's budget sure looks like something the Liberals or maybe even the NDP could have concocted.

"Yes, there were some targeted tax cuts for families and a few tax changes to help business, but overall this budget was all about one thing: SPENDING. Conservatives were supposed to CUT spending; not increase it."

Nicholls lambasted Harper for "pouring" money into Quebec prior to the provincial election to buy a victory for Jean Charest's Liberals and "defeat the nasty separatists."

"And if that was his goal, it worked – the $3 billion ensured Charest won 48 seats, which works out to about $63 million per seat.

"Good thing Harper wasn't aiming for a Liberal majority – that might have bankrupted the country."

Coleman at first characterized Nicholls' departure as voluntary, saying the NCC was going in a "different direction," and "Gerry wants to move on and do other things, so that's what he's going to be doing."

But Coleman then said: "It was a decision that he was going to move on, I'm not going to get into any details as far as that."

The Prime Minister's Office did not respond to an emailed request for comment.