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Barbecue backlash and prayers for Jack Add to ...

Literary icon Margaret Atwood's attack on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford as being anti-culture and making his city unwelcome to artists is now provoking cries of outrage from the Harper Conservative bench.

A prominent federal Tory has jumped to the defence of the Toronto Mayor and his councillor brother, Doug, and is accusing Ms. Atwood of being blinded by her left-wing sensibilities.

"Her positions are reflective of her own ideology as opposed to anything reflected by Rob or Doug Ford," says Dean Del Mastro, the Prime Minster's parliamentary secretary and Peterborough MP. "She doesn't like them (the Fords) because they are conservatives, period, not for anything that they have said or done."

He calls her comments "utterly ridiculous."

Mr. Del Mastro also served as the parliamentary secretary to Heritage Minister James Moore. The Harper Tories have long been sensitive about suggestions that they are against culture and the arts.

In fact, in the past few days senior Harper cabinet ministers, including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, have been pledging millions of dollars to various arts and culture programs.

"She makes several statements that are absolutely and factually false, statements that she should withdraw and apologize for," asserts Mr. Del Mastro. "For example, neither Rob or Doug Ford have ever told people they're not welcome (potential visitors) in Toronto and certainly not artists."

Ms. Atwood told The Globe this week that the Ford brothers, who she mockingly refers to as the "Twin Fordmayor (s)," are making Toronto unwelcome to artists.

"We don't fit their idea of the kind of city they want to live in," she said.

Her dispute with the brothers stems from suggestions that Toronto's libraries are on the chopping block as the Fords search to find budget cuts. She is urging Torontonians to fight back to save their libraries.

But Mr. Del Mastro isn't buying the Atwood outrage.

"You'll look hard anywhere to find where Ms. Atwood had anything good to say about Stephen Harper, Jim Flaherty or James Moore; this despite our government being the only one in the G8 to have increased our investment into arts and culture during the recession."

He accused Ms. Atwood of fighting the bill which would protect copyright for artists and of "opting to actively oppose free speech when the reporter/journalist or commentator happens to have a different view of her own."

There is history between the politician and the celebrated author. The two squared off at a parliamentary committee hearing on the issue; it appears there was no love lost between them.

On a blog post from March, she refers to their encounter in which she was testifying via video:

"Here is the video of the Committee Hearing: (They saw me, I saw squiggly bits). In it you will note some guy - apparently Dean Del Maestro - yelling at me while I am silently opening and closing my mouth like a fish because he turned the mic off."

Meanwhile, the Harper Tories have become quite close to the Ford brothers. The Prime Minister dropped in on a barbecue at Mayor Ford's Toronto home earlier this week. The event was to celebrate Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's success in winning seats for the Tories in traditionally Liberal Toronto.

It was revealed there that Mr. Harper had been fishing with Mayor Ford, who publicly endorsed him in the May general election.

At the barbecue, Mr. Harper says that he and Mayor Ford are cleaning up a "left-wing mess" and mused about a conservative "hat-trick" as Ontarians will be going to the polls in the fall. Electing Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak to the premier's office would achieve that hat-trick.

Prayer and healing

An emotional Jack Layton, the NDP leader, spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in Ottawa last year about the power of prayer.

He talked about an "inexplicable joy" he had felt after he publicly announced he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, telling the annual gathering of MPs from all parties about his prostate cancer diagnosis and how he believed that prayer helped his recovery.

"Well, you know, on the night of the announcement, and it's, what, about ten months ago now, or eleven months," he said, referring to his announcement in February 2010 that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. "I felt this inexplicable joy. And I said to Olivia, I wonder what this could be, because the announcement wasn't exactly, you know, happy," he recalled in an end-of-year interview on CTV's Question Period.

"And, but I guess like a lot of people who are facing cancer in their families, you tackle it. But I felt this incredible feeling. And the next morning I woke up and there were e-mails and phone messages from people from every background, all over the country, saying that they had been praying for me. ... And so, you know, there was, I have no doubt that that's been part of my healing is the power. Some people from the sixties said, I sent you good vibes, you know, that's that sixties thing."

The National House of Prayer, meanwhile, a politically active spiritual group in Ottawa, asked in its weekly email note for followers to pray for Mr. Layton and his family. This, after his announcement last week that he was suffering from a new cancer.

In addition, they asked that everyone pray for interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel. "Pray that she will be able to quickly rise to the call and that God would give her guidance and wisdom to lead the Official Opposition Party," according to the National House of Prayer.

Those prayers have yet to be answered.

Ms. Turmel has landed in hot water over revelations that she was a card-carrying member of Bloc Québécois.

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