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CBC hits back at Tories as latest poll shows 'stasis' Add to ...

1. The network returns fire. Accusations by Stephen Harper's Conservatives that the CBC is stuffed with Liberals who manipulate and direct news coverage are being dismissed by the network.

In a strongly reasoned letter released last night, CBC editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire takes on the Tory accusations, saying the public broadcaster is not sharing resources with the Liberals - and is "politically neutral" and "scrupulously fair" in the way in which it gathers and reports news.

Her letter is in response to charges by John Walsh, the president of the Conservative Party of Canada, that the network has a decidedly Grit bias. Last week he put pen to paper in a letter to the CBC demanding why the network contracted polling firm EKOS Research.

Mr. Walsh alleges that EKOS was also "giving partisan advice to the Liberal Party of Canada." This is in reference to pollster Frank Graves, who in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, suggested Michael Ignatieff's Liberals launch a "culture war" against the Conservatives. The column said Mr. Graves had given this advice to the Grits.

Welcome to the Canadian culture wars.

Indeed, the Harper Conservatives have long been suspicious of the CBC, accusing it of Liberal bias. Despite their outrage, Mr. Graves's comments are a big gift to the Tories, who have filled their coffers through anti-CBC fundraising campaigns.

The Conservatrives launched a campaign this week, asking for donations to fight the left-wing menace that is the CBC. The Walsh letter was one piece of the Tory strategy to fire up its base.

But the CBC is fighting back. Ms. McGuire says that in selecting EKOS as one of four national polling firms that provide data to CBC, Mr. Graves declared that he was not affiliated with any political party.

"We have reviewed this important point with Mr. Graves and confirmed that no client relationship with the Liberal Party of Canada exists," she writes. "While we assume that individuals do cast ballots in elections, we do not require firms or individuals to report on their voting history or donations to political organizations."

She also noted that the pollsters (Mr. Graves is not paid for his appearances on the program, Power & Politics, where he presents his polling data) "serve a different role from our political commentators, who are invited to offer analyses form their own particular and often explicitly partisan perspectives."

(Kory Teneycke, meanwhile, who most recently served as Stephen Harper's communications director, is paid for his appearances on CBC in which he repeats Tory talking points and touts the Conservative line.)

"We believe it is important to encourage a wide-ranging discourse on the issues of the day," the CBC editor-in-chief wrote. "But as with all our content, it too is guided by our journalistic policy and guidelines."

At the end of her three-page letter, Ms. McGuire emphasizes the CBC is "not sharing resources with the Liberal Party of Canada," nor is it sharing data with any political party. As well, she says, that the corporation does not share Mr. Graves's call for a "culture war."

"We will however, like other news organizations, continue to report on the sometimes heated debate on this and other topics that occur throughout Canada's political landscape," she writes.

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2. The pollster weighs in. Controversy hasn't stopped EKOS's Frank Graves from delivering his weekly poll, a survey that suggests to him the Harper Conservatives would receive a lesser minority mandate if an election were called soon.

"As the prospect of an election looms … it is utterly unpredictable what would happen if this occurred," he says. "The best guess is that the CPC would receive a diminished minority.

"When we think back to the instability of the current government's first two months in office it may well be that a much weaker minority wouldn't have any stability at all," he says.

Election speculation is rife again after a historic ruling by House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken. He has given the government and opposition two weeks to work out a compromise over the release of documents related to the Afghan detainee issue. If a solution cannot be found, the government risks being found in contempt - a situation that most certainly could trigger an election.

This week's EKOS poll shows "stasis." The Conservatives have the support of 31.9 per cent of Canadians compared to 26.6 per cent for the Liberals. The NDP has 17.6 per cent support compared to the Green Party with 10.9 per cent and the Bloc is at 9.7 per cent.

This is the 18th consecutive week that no party has broken through the 33 per cent ceiling. "Stasis rules," Mr. Graves says, noting the Tories are right now close to "bedrock."

The pollster says Stephen Harper has a "very loyal base" but there appears to be little room for growth. "They love the PM and they are delighted with the direction of the federal government," Mr. Graves says. "But there is scant room for growth (they trail all other parties as second choice)."

And at the same time, he says, it is "extremely difficult to imagine what it is that could shake up or alloy the fragmented supporters of opposition parties to dislodge a not very popular government which can't crack 33 points."

The poll of 2,303 Canadians was conducted between April 21 and April 27. It has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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