The party leaders: Where they went and what they said on Tuesday, April 5
Conservative leader Stephen Harper visited a firehall in the rural Quebec town of Victoriaville Tuesday, where he downplayed the $2.2-billion cost of a Tory pledge to compensate the province for moving to a harmonized sales tax. “It is a one-time cost for this year. It will not change the overall downward path of the deficit over the next few years,” he said. The Tory leader made promises designed to woo rural Quebeckers away from the Bloc Québécois, including a $450 tax break for volunteer firefighters and incentives for nurses and doctors to move to rural communities. But Mr. Harper was dogged by criticism over his “bubble” style of campaigning, and he sidestepped questions on why a young woman was ejected from a Conservative rally in London, Ont., because she's posted a photo of herself with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff on Facebook. “The staff runs our campaigns and I can’t comment on individual matters like that,” he said. He also defended himself over the Bruce Carson affair, in which a man hired to work in the Prime Minister’s Office turned out to have multiple fraud convictions. Mr. Harper said he wasn’t aware of those convictions and wouldn’t have hired Mr. Carson had he known of his recent past.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was also in Quebec on Tuesday, visiting the Quebec City area, Drummondville and Sherbrooke and urging Quebeckers who vote for the Bloc Québécois to get off the fence and vote for one of the two parties that have a chance of forming the next government: the Liberals or the Tories. “I think we’ve come to a fork in the road,” he said. “That is, Quebeckers have got to decide whether they want Prime Minister Harper or a Liberal prime minister.” Mr. Ignatieff did his best not to alienate separatists, saying he “has respect for” BQ leader Gilles Duceppe, but he reiterated that he’d “never form a coalition with him.” He also reiterated his promise that a Liberal government would help fund the Quebec City Colisée. Mr. Ignatieff took a moment to attack Mr. Harper over the Bruce Carson affair, saying it was “very bad” that the Tory leader does background checks on his audience at political rallies but not on the people he hires to work in the PMO.
NDP leader Jack Layton was in a fighting mood in Winnipeg on Tuesday. He pre-empted a planned announcement on family policy with an attack against the Harper government over the Bruce Carson affair, saying the fact a man convicted on multiple fraud counts was able to work in the Prime Minister’s Office was “just more proof that Stephen Harper can't be trusted.” Mr. Layton eventually found time to talk about his party's plan to help the so-called sandwich generation – those who are caring for elderly parents as well as children. The NDP would provide a “forgivable loan” of up to $35,000 to help families retrofit their homes to care for elderly relatives. Mr. Layton also vowed to allow caregivers to collect Employment Insurance benefits for up to six months to care for dying relatives, as well as other benefits the NDP says would cost $1.3-billion in the current fiscal year.
Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe spent Tuesday in Gaspe region of Quebec, a blue-collar separatist stronghold. He stopped in the towns of Rimouski, Ste-Flavie and Mont-Joli, where he met with local supporters and BQ candidates. Mr. Duceppe was dogged by questions about his position that asbestos is a safe material, a claim he made a day earlier. "If (the production of asbestos) is done in a responsible way, then it's safe," he insisted on Tuesday.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (seen here in a photo from last week) spent the day campaigning in Vancouver but was handed a major setback when a Federal Court judge refused to make an emergency ruling on her request that she be allowed to take part in next Tuesday's televised leaders' debate. The consortium of broadcasters holding the debate said last week she would be excluded because the Greens have never had a seat in Parliament. Justice Marc Nadon said Tuesday there was not enough time before the debate for the court “to perform its duty in a satisfactory manner.” Ms. May responded by calling on her fellow party leaders to boycott the debate. “I want the other leaders to step up and demonstrate that they believe in the principles and the practice of a healthy democracy by telling the consortium that there will be no debate without me," she said.
(DON MACKINNON/AFP/Getty Images)