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Jane Taber

NDP and Tories face off over sports funding Add to ...

VANCOUVER - While a recent poll found Jack Layton is considered by Canadians the best political leader to drink a beer with, it is likely that most Canadians would rather be hanging out with Stephen Harper today.

And this is why: Duelling press releases reveal that both the Prime Minister and the NDP Leader will be watching the Canadian women's hockey team play in the gold-medal final today. And both have a Gretzky connection - with one big difference, however.

The Prime Minister will be at the game and sitting with Wayne and Janet Gretzky. Mr. Layton, meanwhile, will be at Wayne Gretzky's Restaurant in Toronto, watching the game with his wife, Olivia Chow. "It seems like an excellent place to cheer the team to victory," says Mr. Layton in his press release.

The NDP's absence from the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games has been a source of criticism for the Tories - in part provoked by its decision to decline purchasing tickets at face value that were set aside for MPs, saying that was privileged access.

So Mr. Layton and most of his caucus have been watching the Games from afar - and criticizing them from their armchairs as well. Yesterday, they took on the Harper government for its funding of Canadian elite athletes.

A release sent out yesterday by the NDP - Government Walks Away from Canadian Athletes Mid-Games - accused the Conservatives of cutting the Own the Podium program.

"On the day that Canada is poised to win its first gold in Women's Bobsled and Clara Hughes skates to defend her Olympic title, the Harper Conservatives announced they are walking away from the Own the Podium program, cutting $$11-million in funding to our Olympic athletes," it said.

The Prime Minister's Office fired back in an internal memo to Conservative supporters and MPs: Under the headline, "Politics and the Podium", the PMO strategists wrote: "Instead of joining millions of their fellow Canadians in cheering on our Olympic athletes, the NDP today decided to do politics instead."

The PMO memo accuses the NDP of "falsely" claiming that the Harper government is not continuing its funding of Canada's elite athletes.

It counters that claim, arguing that sports minister Gary Lunn has repeatedly and consistently said the government's commitment to the Own the Podium program will continue.

By making this claim, the memo says the NDP has done a "disservice to our athletes … and everyone else who has worked so hard to get to Vancouver."

"There is a time for sports, and a time for politics. Unfortunately, in its quest for media exposure the NDP has confused the two."

Go Canada, Go.

(Photo: A fan lets out a yell as the Canadian men's hockey team takes the ice last night against Russia. Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

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