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The 2011 campaign trail comes to Montreal

Election campaigning begins with action-packed first week

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The first week of the federal campaign proved to be tumultuous for all five of the major parties. Liberal Michael Ignatieff, Bloc Québécois Gilles Duceppe and Conservative Stephen Harper all visited Montreal last week to kick off the six-week campaign period leading up to the May 2 vote. Following three consecutive minority governments, this will be the fourth federal election in seven years.

Harper held a rally Wednesday afternoon, amidst sudden media scrutiny of two of his party’s Montreal-region candidates. Agop Evereklian, the Conservative candidate in Pierrefonds-Dollard riding, replaced his campaign manager Giulio Maturi after Le Devoir made public Maturi’s work in Benoît Labonté’s 2009 mayoral campaign in Montreal. Labonté dropped out of the race for accepting kickbacks from local construction entrepreneur Tony Accurso. The same day, Larry Smith, the Tory candidate in Lac-Saint-Louis riding, also caused a stir when he said to Le Devoir, “What is important is the world, not the protection of French in Quebec. That’s a thing of the past.”

Also on Wednesday, the broadcast consortium organizing the leaders’ debates announced that Green Party leader Elizabeth May will not be included in the debates scheduled for April 12 in English and April 14 in French. May’s exclusion is the result of the Green Party not currently holding a seat in the House of Commons.

On Thursday, Duceppe faced backlash against the Bloc when exiting Bloc MP for Northern Quebec, Yvon Lévesque, commented on the Cree background of the riding’s new NDP candidate Romeo Saganash. Lévesque said in an interview to Rue Frontenac that “certain voters will not vote for the NDP now that they have an Aboriginal candidate.” The NDP is now pushing for Lévesque to leave the party for his “very startling comments,” as NDP MP Thomas Mulcair said.

“They are in full flight, not a position [the Bloc] is used to,” Mulcair added.

Meanwhile, Harper continued to denounce Ignatieff’s plans for a “reckless,” “illegitimate,” and “dangerous” coalition with opposition leaders despite Ignatieff’s repeated statements he has absolutely no interest in forming a coalition.

NDP Thomas Mulcair, who has been an MP in Outremont since 2007, embraced the idea of a coalition of opposition parties.

“Jack is the one who proposed the coalition back in 2008 and for us it’s a constant in our political activity,” he said.

“This is not any ordinary election we are facing right now. We’ve got to get rid of Harper, we’ve got to be smart about it. That’s why our signs say ‘Work together,’” Mulcair added.

Harper’s biggest policy announcement came last Thursday when he announced that if re-elected, the Conservative government would seek to complete negotiations on a free trade agreement with the European Union by 2012 and India by 2013. Reaffirming his party’s commitment to the economy, Harper went on to criticize the Liberals’ economic policy.

“The choice is clear,” said Harper.  “Canadians can choose between a stable national government with a low-tax plan that will create jobs by expanding trade, and Michael Ignatieff’s high-tax agenda that will put our businesses and workers at a severe disadvantage relative to our international competitors.”

Subsequently, Michael Ignatieff has been campaigning hard to convince Canadians that his party will focus on “the things that really matter to Canadian families.” He says this includes issues such as education, health care and job creation, but not billion dollar fighter jets.

One of the most ambitious promises so far is the Liberal party’s Canadian Learning Passport.

“The Canadian Learning Passport is taking a billion dollars and investing it in a registered education savings plan so that every Canadian student that chooses to go to university, college or CEGEP will get a thousand dollars a year over four years, over $1,500 a year for low-income families,” explained Liberal Youth Critic and MP for Papineau Justin Trudeau. “It’s money upfront, it’s not a tax credit, it’s not reimbursable, it’s $1,000 cash per year towards education.”

The plan would do little to address rising tuition fees, however. Other opposition parties, including the NDP, were skeptical of the Liberals’ proposal.

“Tuition fees increased four times faster than inflation during the 13 years of Liberal governments,” said Joanne Corbeil, NDP candidate for Westmount-Ville Marie.

Liberal candidate for Outremont, Martin Cauchon, defended his party’s platform.

“You have to be able to strike the right balance. That’s why I like the Liberal party. We’re not far, far left, we’re not far, far right. We’re in the middle and when needed we go left in order to keep the balance in our society,” said Cauchon. “You can’t have unity among the opposition parties because our standing point is so different.”