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Politics Today: The House is back, and Harper’s got trade on his mind

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at the Toyota plant in Cambridge, Ont., on January 23 while announcing new government investment in the production of hybrid vehicles. One of the sticking points in free trade talks with the EU is the level of Canadian and EU content in Canadian-made vehicles needed to ensure duty-free access for vehicles being shipped from assembly plants in Canada.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Politics Today is your daily guide to some of the stories we're watching in Ottawa and across Canada, by The Globe and Mail's team of political reporters.

The House is back, baby

The House of Commons finally sits again today after the winter break. Sure to be on the top of the agenda: a free-trade deal with the EU. As Barrie McKenna and Greg Keenan write, a deal is likely, but a few sticking points remain, including telecommunications and agricultural products. But for the Harper government, with a relatively light agenda on paper, trade will be the next big focus. And as the new year begins, where do the parties stand in the polls? According to an analysis by Éric Grenier of, the Conservatives are at 35 per cent national support, the NDP are at 29 per cent and the Liberals at 23 per cent. That's a slight decline for the NDP, and the main cause appears to be Atlantic Canada: The Dippers have dropped 10 points while the Grits picked up 11 points and now lead in the region.

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For the Wynne

For political junkies, the Ontario Liberal convention this weekend wasn't quite the Stanley Cup, but at least the draft deadline. Kathleen Wynne was victorious and is now premier-designate. Certainly two moments stand out for most convention-goers: first was the confusion when Harinder Takhar threw his support to Sandra Pupatello after the first ballot results (not for his action, which made political sense, but for waiting too long so his name remained on the second ballot and delayed vote counting; apparently even his staff was surprised by his sudden move). The second was when Charles Sousa and Gerard Kennedy, the third– and fourth-place candidates, let it be known at the same time they would both be supporting Ms. Wynne. There was still another round of voting and counting to go, but at that point we knew who the next premier would be.

The Globe's editorial board wishes Ms. Wynne well, and says they're glad for Mr. Sousa's show of confidence in the new premier. But there were also some other reasons Mr. Sousa likely threw his support behind Ms. Wynne that aren't about policy – including his lack of appetite to jump into another election and some behind-the-scenes Mississauga politics that might have gotten in the way. ICYMI and want to relive the day, you can replay our live blog.

Redford's chance to explain

Alison Redford took to the airwaves last week with warnings about the province's grim fiscal picture – sagging revenues and a ballooning deficit, despite an economy that remains hot. On Monday, she'll get a taste of what the party faithful think. The Alberta premier will be hosting an hour-long "telephone town hall" with Progressive Conservative party members Monday evening, updating them on the province's budget as oil revenues sink. Since her televised address Thursday evening, Ms. Redford has been on a media blitz – from local bloggers to beat writers to national TV – selling her vision. There's only one snag: she's not offering details. Instead, she's standing by election promises, ruling out both tax hikes and deep spending cuts, wants to save money (despite a massive deficit) and pledged to "keep building Alberta." Critics say she can't do it all without returning Alberta to debt for the first time since 2004. If you find it all a little confusing, you're not alone – on Monday evening, party members get their first shot to make sense of it all.

- Josh Wingrove in Edmonton

Another pipeline pipe dream?

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Improving Alberta's – and Ms. Redford's – prospects would be another pipeline from the oil sands to refineries elsewhere. And with the Northern Gateway in B.C. troubled, and the Keystone XL pipeline south looking uncertain, where else to turn but east? New Brunswick Premier David Alward will be in Alberta early next month to lend his support to the idea of a west-to-east pipeline to take the oil to refineries in Quebec or the Maritimes. (LINK) There's a lot at stake for both provinces, including a potentially big job boost in New Brunswick, which otherwise doesn't have the same level of natural riches.

B.C. NDP stays positive

The pre-campaign ad battle has begun in British Columbia, with the B.C. Liberals going negative and the NDP (who are up in the polls) going positive. The NDP is pretty confident in its strategy, as former leader Carole James, who is working on the campaign, said: "Lots of people will say it's a risk to not go negative, but it's a risk worth taking and a risk I believe the public is ready for." A noble goal to be sure, but one that proved devastating in recent federal elections.

Also, if you've wondered where Brian Topp has been since last year's federal NDP leadership race – he's now working for the B.C. NDP.

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