a) Famous Russian hockey star
b) Only democratically elected female Liberian/African head of state
Should be a no-brainer, right? Not for our Stephen. From the Star:
It is safe to say the PM and PMO are incompetent or lying, or [probably] both. You're a bloody wonder, Stephen.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper scrambled yesterday to defuse a controversy over allegations that he snubbed Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf during a visit.
The Prime Minister's Office said yesterday that Harper did briefly meet with Johnson-Sirleaf after a request from the Liberian embassy was received late yesterday afternoon.
Harper's office insists there was no official request for a meeting before that point. Organizers of Johnson-Sirleaf's trip to Canada for a conference and other functions say an unofficial request was made but were told Harper did not have time in his schedule.
The issue was first raised in question period yesterday when Liberal MP Bryon Wilfert (Richmond Hill) said Harper managed to find time to meet legendary Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak on Tuesday but not Johnson-Sirleaf.
"As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, why will the Prime Minister not take time from his schedule today to meet with the president of Liberia," Wilfert said.
Harper told reporters later that he found out Johnson-Sirleaf was in town only when she was introduced in the Commons on Tuesday.
Liberal MP Belinda Stronach (Newmarket-Aurora), who helped organized the president's visit, told the Star that a request was made to have Harper meet with Johnson-Sirleaf but "I understand that the Prime Minister had a busy schedule, (he) met with Tretiak."
"I believe it should have (happened). ... It is in our national interest to help nations such as Liberia succeed," she said after Johnson-Sirleaf – the only democratically elected woman head of state in Africa – spoke at a public policy conference in Gatineau, Que.
Johnson-Sirleaf, who was elected in November 2005, told the Canada 20/20 Public Policy Conference her country was nearly destroyed by a "senseless civil war" where hundreds of thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands more fled their homes.
"We are ... determined to restore basic human rights and to build an inclusive democracy in which rights are respected ... decisions are based on the rule of law rather than the whims of dictators, and national resources are used for the benefit of all," said Johnson-Sirleaf, who was jailed for a short time in 1985 for speaking out against Samuel Doe's military regime.
Stronach, TV personality Rick Mercer and Nigel Fisher, president and CEO of UNICEF Canada, presented the president with 33,000 anti-malaria bed nets for Liberia.
Time magazine this month named Johnson-Sirleaf as one of the top 100 people shaping the world today by democratizing the country torn apart by 14 years of bloody civil war.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty will make a few brief remarks today at Hart House at the University of Toronto, where Johnson-Sirleaf is giving as lecture.
Johnson-Sirleaf and her delegation are in Canada following official visits in the last couple of months to Spain, Belgium and Japan. The president was assured by those countries that they would join the United States at the G-8 meeting – of which Canada is a member – in May to press for the cancellation of all of Liberia's bilateral and multilateral debt.