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Politics Harper, Trudeau write duelling letters to residents in Manitoba by-election

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau speaks at a campaign rally in Montreal on Nov. 12, 2013.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Brandon residents are getting some unusual personal attention from Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau.

With the Conservatives and Liberals locked in what is evidently a tight race for Monday's by-election in Brandon-Souris, the two federal leaders have written personal letters to constituents to appeal for their votes.

The Prime Minister kicked off the letter-writing campaign with a missive extolling his government's record and bashing the Liberal leader as soft on crime and a bad example to children.

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Trudeau is now hitting back with his own letter, directly answering what he calls the Prime Minister's "malicious, negative and false attacks."

The Conservative party paid for Harper's letter to be delivered by mail.

Trudeau's letter is being published as an advertisement in the Brandon Sun and being distributed door-to-door by Liberal campaigners.

In his letter, which arrived in mailboxes earlier this week, Harper reminds voters that Trudeau's Liberals opposed abolition of the "wasteful and ineffective" long-gun registry and dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly on western grain sales.

He contrasts the Conservative government's commitment to "continue defending mandatory jail time for big-time drug dealers and child predators" with Trudeau's commitment to "scrap mandatory prison sentences."

"On top of that, Justin Trudeau's plan to legalize marijuana will make it more accessible to our kids and encourage recreational drug use. This is the wrong message to send to our children."

Trudeau uses his missive to try to set the record straight.

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"Our plan is to replace the failed Conservative drug policy with one that will make it harder for our kids to get drugs and starve organized crime of the hundreds of millions of dollars they currently make from the marijuana trade," he says of the Liberal promise to legalize, regulate and tax pot.

"As for mandatory minimum sentences, for years our party has supported them for serious crimes and continues to do so. We simply believe that the Conservatives have applied them across the board and are now wasting your money fighting losing battles in the courts."

Trudeau goes on to note that he is the father of two young children, with a third on the way.

"Anybody who suggests that I am anything other than fully committed to protecting my kids and yours from crime and exploitation needs to think hard about the way they practice politics," he says, adding that "Mr. Harper and his party have brought politics to a new, nasty low in this country."

Trudeau also charges that electing another Conservative MP will simply add one more Tory to blindly do the Prime Minister's bidding, including helping him cover up his office's involvement in the Senate expenses scandal.

Brandon is a longtime Conservative stronghold but Liberal candidate Rolf Dinsdale, son of a former long-serving Progressive Conservative MP, is providing a stiff challenge to Tory Larry Maguire.

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In Winnipeg on Friday for an infrastructure announcement, Harper dismissed suggestions the Senate scandal is having any impact in Brandon.

"I believe the people of Brandon, as elsewhere, their focus is on a strong economy, making sure we create jobs and growth, making sure that ... we do not raise people's taxes and that is very different than the positions of the other parties," Harper said.

For those voters who do care about the scandal, Harper said it was the Conservative party which introduced new rules to require greater transparency on senators' expense claims and which voted to suspend three Tory senators whose claims were disallowed.

"The Liberal party opposed transparency and the Liberal party opposed having any sanctions for people who broke or disregarded the rules."

In fact, Liberal senators said the new rules were insufficient and balked at the government plan to pass them immediately without debate.

Most Liberal senators, along with a handful of Conservatives, argued it was a violation of the fundamental right to due process to suspend Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau before they'd been charged, much less convicted of any wrongdoing.

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Federal by-elections will also be held in three other ridings on Monday: Toronto Centre, Montreal's Bourassa riding and Manitoba's Provencher riding.

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