Vive Le Canada

Harper tests the mood for an early election
Date: Saturday, April 16 2005

Harper says,"(It) is the biggest corruption scandal in this country if not in any Western democracy...."
Was this guy born this morning? What planet has he been living on? A fingernail on concrete would dig deep enough to find scandal in any government today that would be larger than this one or Watergate.'''''''''''4Canada


CAMBRIDGE—In a campaign-style stop here yesterday, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper tried to convince voters to support an election call before Justice John Gomery makes his report on the Liberal sponsorship scandal.

"I challenge the population outside Quebec to show that it is equally prepared to demand accountability, that it is prepared to hold (Prime Minister Paul) Martin and his party responsible," Harper told about 120 supporters in a lunchtime speech at the chamber of commerce.

It came a day after an Environics poll showed that 76 per cent of Canadians want to wait until Gomery's report is issued this fall before going back to the polls. The last election was in June, sending Martin's Liberals back to the House of Commons with a minority government.

The swing through Cambridge and Waterloo doubled as a chance to cast the Conservative party to voters in the largely Liberal-held Ontario battleground as one that will rebuild federalism in Quebec — a federalism, Harper said, that Liberal corruption has critically damaged.

"The Liberal Party of Canada has turned federal politics in Quebec into a fight between separation and corruption," he said. "Federalism must be rebuilt in Quebec, through principled, democratic alternatives."

It was Harper's most direct appeal to Ontario voters in recent weeks, in which he reiterated support for Premier Dalton McGuinty's call on Ottawa to close the $23-billion gap between what Ontarians pay to the federal government and what they receive back in transfer payments.

"As prime minister, I will take up this issue," he said. "I will bring the provinces together so we can achieve real, substantial, and I might add final, progress on this matter."

The Environics poll also showed that with support at 32 per cent in Ontario, the federal Conservatives lag behind the Liberals at 37 per cent.

Harper looked closer still to election-mode yesterday with photo-ops at a shirt factory and a hi-tech firm scheduled between private receptions and meetings with potential Ontario candidates.

He ruled out any attempts to form the government without an election, saying that "would be feasible only under extraordinary circumstances."

With only 99 of the 308 Commons seats, the Conservatives would need help to defeat the government. The Bloc Québécois has 54 seats, the NDP 19, and there are three independents. The Liberals have 132 seats and one seat is vacant.

So what comes next for the federal Tories is a crucial waiting game. MPs will spend the week after next in their ridings, Harper said, reading just how much outrage the Gomery inquiry — and allegations that the Liberal party received kickbacks — is generating.

"I want enough evidence out there for Canadians to understand the picture of what really happened here," Harper told reporters.

He's confident that they'll come around. "(It) is the biggest corruption scandal in this country if not in any Western democracy and so we'll take our time on that," he said.

Gomery hopes to wrap up his public hearings by the end of next month. He is slated to release his findings Nov. 1 and make his recommendations public Dec. 15.

In the Conservative-held riding of Cambridge, constituents aren't in election mode yet, said rookie MP Gary Goodyear.

"They want us to sit back and listen to the testimony that's coming out," he said. "But we're reading the situation every day or two ... this is worse than Watergate and it hasn't quite sunk in yet."


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