August 14, 2006
An organizer of the 16th International AIDS Conference said he is "disappointed" by the conspicuous absence of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper from the summit's start yesterday in Toronto. "HIV is one of the worst enemies we have on this planet," said co-chairperson Dr. Mark Wainberg. "Why is Mr. Harper not here to show leadership on the world stage? As a Canadian it breaks my heart."
"We understood that a new prime minister and a new government might not understand the importance of this conference and we wanted to tell them everything they needed to know," said Wainberg. "We never wanted to embarrass Mr. Harper, which is why our door was open until the last moment. I have deliberately not made statements to the press about his absence until now because we have been hoping against hope that he would change his mind."
Harper's office said a scheduling conflict is behind his absence. Harper was on a visit to northern Canada over the weekend.
Wainberg accused Harper of "poor politics." The prime minister, he said, had the "chance to show solidarity with the millions of people around the world afflicted by HIV."
Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party, called Harper's decision not to attend "shocking and irresponsible." "It's unbelievable that the political leader of the host country isn't here. The whole world has come here to talk about the biggest health crisis on the planet, and it's profoundly sad that our prime minister isn't among them," he said.