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A voter leaves a polling station in St. Laurent, Que., after casting his ballot in the federal election on Oct. 14, 2008 . (ROGERIO BARBOSA/AFP/Getty Images)
A voter leaves a polling station in St. Laurent, Que., after casting his ballot in the federal election on Oct. 14, 2008 . (ROGERIO BARBOSA/AFP/Getty Images)

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'Selective' Tories try to lower by-election expectations Add to ...

1. Setting the bar low. Just after calling three federal by-elections for next month, Stephen Harper's team began trying to manage - even play down - expectations.

"The Government in power very rarely wins by-elections, especially in ridings they didn't win in the previous general election," Conservative Party strategists said in a memo circulated Sunday to MPs and supporters. "Official opposition parties win by-elections, and two of these ridings have been held by opposition parties for decades."

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Well, maybe not for long. In fact, that's what the Tories are hoping.

By-elections in the Ontario riding of Vaughan and in Manitoba's Winnipeg North and Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette have been called for Nov. 29. All three MPs who represented them stepped aside to run municipally.

Liberal Maurizio Bevilacqua represented Vaughan for 22 years and will find out later Monday if he is successful in his bid for mayor. Former NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis had represented Winnipeg North since 1997 and Conservative Inky Mark served in Dauphin for 14 years; Manitoba's municipal elections are Wednesday.

Despite the lowering of expectations, the Tories are in a good position to win Vaughan from the Grits. The Prime Minister has attracted star candidate Julian Fantino to run.

The former Toronto police chief and Ontario Provincial Police commissioner is well-known and plays to the party's law-and-order agenda. He is up against a grassroots Liberal, Tony Genco, who was acclaimed as Michael Ignatieff's candidate this weekend.

Mr. Harper, however, has already been in the riding to meet and be seen with Mr. Fantino. Mr. Ignatieff has not been there yet - and it's not known when he will visit.

As well, the Conservatives have defied the trend of a governing party losing support in by-elections before. In September of 2007, the Tories even won a seat from the Bloc Québécois in a by-election - a fact not lost on the Liberals.

"The Conservatives have a selective memory," a senior Ignatieff official told The Globe. "In four by-elections a year ago, the government picked up two new seats and even now, it's the government who chooses the timing and sets the number of by-elections with a view to what's best for them.

"Mr. Harper wants nothing more than to create an impression of lowered expectations and shift the focus off the government's record of wasting billions on fighter jets and photo-ops."

2. Of refugees and 'star whackers.' In defending his new anti-smuggling legislation Sunday, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he hoped it will send a message and deter shiploads of people from trying to gain refugee status in Canada.

And in an interview on CTV's Question Period, Mr. Kenney noted that a number of the Tamils who came to Canada last summer on the MV Sun Sea are suspected to have terrorist links.

"A large number of people are still being detained because we have not been able to identify them or because we have reasonable grounds to believe they may constitute, they may be inadmissible because of ties to terrorism and national security concerns," he said.

Adding to the fears that more of these ships will come ashore in Canada, Mr. Kenney talked about his meetings in Australia last month on the issue. "They believe these smuggling syndicates that are targeting Canada have the capacity to, and are likely if they are not stopped, to send several ships a year to Canada each bearing several hundred passengers," Mr. Kenney said.

He noted, too, that since the arrival of the Tamils this summer public support for immigration has dropped among Canadians.

The minister won approval of The Globe and Mail's editorial board Monday for the government's move to " tackle this crime," but the paper warns the bill goes too far "by forcing successful claimants who entered via human-smuggling ships to wait five years to apply for permanent residence."

Asked, meanwhile, whether he will approve refugees status for actor Randy Quaid and his wife - the pair came to Canada Friday claiming they are victims of " Hollywood star whackers"- the Immigration Minister leaned back in his chair and laughed.

"Ha, ha, well thankfully, that won't get to my desk because it goes to the Immigration and Refugee Board," Mr. Kenney said, noting that earlier this year his government brought in new legislation to "crack down on abuse of our asylum system."

He added: "Let me tell you that about 60 per cent of the asylum claims in Canada are found to be unfounded, and that is really a concern. I think Canadians are right to be concerned that our country is being used as a door mat by people that want to abuse our asylum system."

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