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How the Olympic flame could burn Stephen Harper

1. Tensions rising in Haiti. Canada is poised to send three to four more helicopters to Haiti to help with opening up roads and the repair and rebuilding of bridges, according to a senior Harper government official. That would bring to six the number of Canadian Forces helicopters in the earthquake-ravaged country.

The official says tensions are rising in the country as prisons were destroyed and everyone is out on the street, fending for themselves. The other challenge for the Canadian government is co-ordinating with authorities in Haiti as there is no "functioning government,", the official says. The "international community is bound together but [there is]no recipient government to partner with," he says.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and Defence Minister Peter MacKay are to hold a media briefing later this morning to update the situation.

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2. Higher, swifter, crankier! That's how EKOS pollster Frank Graves is describing his new survey, which finds a slim plurality of Canadians believe too much taxpayer money is being spent on the Olympics. And what this means for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his decision to shut down Parliament for five weeks during the Vancouver Games could be instructive.

"The interesting speculation is if this was the strategic bookend to prorogation (deflect disclosure issues with prorogation) then ride Olympic euphoria to majority (government) then were both strategic bookends flawed?" Mr. Graves asks.

Indeed, there is a view among some political observers that a successful Olympics Games for Canada (gold medals galore) will create good feelings toward the Conservative government, which could then use this as a springboard for an election and majority government. The strategy may just have backfired.

Here are the EKOS findings: 48 per cent of Canadians think that too much is being spent on the games while 45 per cent believe it's the right amount; seven per cent believe too little is being spent. The price tag for the Olympics is massive; at least $1-billion is being spent on security alone.

The EKOS poll of 3,730 Canadians was conducted between Jan. 6 ajd Jan. 12. Mr. Graves was struck by the numbers from British Columbia, which showed that 68 per cent of B.C. residents (who are the hosts of the Games) believe that too much is being spent compared to 28 per cent who say the spending is the right amount.

Mr. Graves also broke down the numbers by party preference, finding that 58 per cent of New Democrats believe too much is being spent on the Olympics. He refers to this as "the bread not circuses sentiment." Meanwhile, 44 per cent of Conservative and Liberal supporters believe too much is being spent compared to 53 per cent of Green Party supporters and 43 per cent of Bloc Quebecois voters.

The pollster believes that the sentiment is driven by "acute economic anxieties about labour markets and burgeoning 'structural' deficit."

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3. Iggy gets his groove back. A few weeks ago he was a bum but new and favourable polls are casting a different light on Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. Three leading national opinion polls - EKOS yesterday, Strategic Counsel a day before and now Harris-Decima - show Stephen Harper's Conservatives and Mr. Ignatieff's Liberals now basically tied. As well, the Harris-Decima poll shows that the Prime Minister's approval rating has dropped since the fall.

Meanwhile, the 10 point lead the Tories had enjoyed over the Liberals for the last several months has evaporated. The reason? Pollsters are saying it's because Canadians don't like the Prime Minister's decision to prorogue Parliament.

Mr. Ignatieff was in Calgary yesterday as part of his cross-country tour of university and college campuses. He was asked about the new polls and whether they might change his mind about trying to defeat the minority Tory government. " Who's talking about an election?" asked Mr. Ignatieff, according to the Calgary Sun. "These polls they go up they go down - let's not go crazy about their importance. I haven't heard a Canadian out there who wants an election." Coy.

(Photo: Former Olympian Barbara Ann Scott carries the torch in the House of Commons in December. Chris Wattie/Reuters)

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