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For Harper, no news is good news for his legacy

Peter Mansbridge interviews Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Jan.17, 2011.

CBC News: The National

Stephen Harper hopes Canadians will reward his party for things that didn't happen.

On his watch, the federal government has been free of scandal and at peace with the provinces, the Prime Minister said in an interview with CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge that aired on Monday evening.

It was a bold declaration, and one that critics will not accept. But the record offers support for his claims.

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Mr. Harper came to power in no small measure because a scandal over advertising contracts in Quebec had besmirched the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.

Since then, the Conservatives have been responsible for an economic stimulus plan worth $47.2-billion to combat the effects of the global recession, a transfer of funds many times greater than anything the Liberals attempted, with little evidence of waste or pork-barrelling, and none of corruption.

"I'm not saying we've run a perfect government by any means," Mr. Harper acknowledged, "but there have been no corruption scandals or anything like that under this government."

There is evidence that stimulus funds in some cases flowed disproportionately to Conservative-held ridings.

But over all, the Auditor-General and other investigators have praised the government's efforts for getting money to the provinces and municipalities swiftly and efficiently.

The Chrétien and Martin governments also wrestled with the provinces over federal funding cuts, especially for health care, although Mr. Martin resolved that conflict with a 10-year health accord signed in 2004.

To that extent, Mr. Harper has benefited from Mr. Martin's success. And the Prime Minister has had his own contretemps with premiers, not least the disagreement over oil royalties and equalization payments that led to political war between Mr. Harper and then-Newfoundland premier Danny Williams.

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But they patched that up, and Mr. Harper was right when he told Mr. Mansbridge: "We haven't got into big constitutional bickering. We have not got into big jurisdictional fights with the provinces for the most part."

Concessions to Quebec, especially recognizing the Quebec people as a nation, coupled with the presence of federalist Premier Jean Charest, have done much to quell tension between Ottawa and Quebec City.

That could change, if the next provincial election brings the Parti Québécois to power.

A federal election may or may not be around the corner. Regardless, Mr. Harper is not leaving it to the historians or opposition politicians to determine his legacy after five years in power. And part of that legacy, as far as he is concerned, is the headlines that were never written.

The CBC interview with the Prime Minister concludes on Tuesday evening.

Parties in various states of election-battle readiness

A federal election campaign isn't officially under way, but party leaders aren't wasting any time in getting out of Ottawa and on to the hustings. But what of the real election preparations? The planes, the buses, the war rooms? The Globe asked each party for an update:

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Conservatives The Conservative Party of Canada has a standing arrangement with Air Canada that allows them to obtain a plane for a campaign with about two weeks' notice. The Tories have so far not given notice they need a plane.

The Conservatives have so far not fired up their election headquarters office in east-end Ottawa, a Tory source says. The party is likely to do so, though, as the date approaches for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to table his budget. This would present opposition parties with an opportunity to defeat the budget and topple the government.

Liberals An official in Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's office said on background that the past seven months, in which Mr. Ignatieff has been more or less constantly on the road when not in the House of Commons, has been in part about "getting our team in shape."

"We're going to keep doing what we've been doing," the official said, "refining our message, putting forward new ideas, reaching out to Canadians right across the country, and keeping the pressure on the Conservatives for their misguided priorities."

NDP The New Democrats have put down a retainer with Air Canada that will allow them to get a jet if a campaign is launched. The party has just renovated the war room in its Laurier Street headquarters in Ottawa, just in time if an election is triggered this winter.

Leader Jack Layton has been suggesting he'll try to find a compromise to avoid an election. But the party has been honing left-leaning populist messages - attacking Mr. Flaherty's lecture on household debt as "beer and popcorn" putdowns of struggling Canadians, calling for credit-card fees to be regulated, promising to pull troops out of Afghanistan, and opposing cuts to corporate taxes.

Bloc Québécois Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe urged rank-and-file members on Monday to prepare for a potential election campaign that could follow the tabling of the budget expected in late February.


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