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Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin arrives to testify at the Commons special committee on Afghanistan in Ottawa on Wednesday, November 18, 2009.

1. Tortured numbers. The Afghan prisoner controversy is hurting Stephen Harper's Conservatives. A new national opinion poll by EKOS shows the Tories are taking on water as a result of the detainee crisis with a majority of Canadians believing the government was aware prisoners were likely being tortured.

The poll has the Conservatives at 35.6 per cent nationally, a drop of 1.3 per cent from EKOS's previous poll on Nov. 26. The Liberals are at 26.5 per cent, the NDP at 16.7 per cent, the Green Party is at 11.3 per cent and the Bloc is at 9.9 per cent.

"I guess the key point is that this torture thing, unlike the previous supposed brouhahas that have occupied Parliament, really does seem to be sticking to the Conservatives a little bit more," pollster Frank Graves says. "And I'm sure they'll be thrilled to pack their bags and head home for Christmas break."

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The House is to rise today or tomorrow for the holidays and won't return until Jan. 25.

Mr. Graves also found in his poll that Canadians believe Richard Colvin over former chief of defence staff Rick Hillier. Indeed, in the battle between the generals and the lone diplomat, Canadians believe Mr. Colvin and his explosive testimony that Canadian-transferred Afghan prisoners were tortured. It shows that 61 per cent of Canadians accept Mr. Colvin's testimony despite three top generals, including Mr. Hillier, and other top government officials and diplomats who have all refuted it.

Meanwhile, the poll says that of that group, a full 83 per cent believe the government was aware of "there was a strong possibility that prisoners would be tortured." The poll of 2,388 Canadians was conducted between Dec. 2 and Dec. 8. It has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

"Over all, the trajectory and the current read from the public is 'no, this is a bad thing. It isn't what you said, it's what Colvin said and we're just simply not happy with the way … you haven't come clean with us.'," Mr. Graves says. "I think it has the potential to be something that could hurt them considerably more. I wouldn't say they are on the ropes on this but they are clearly taking on some water."

2. Déjà vu all over again. There is some eye-rolling in the Tory senior ranks over an end-of-year column (hello, Don Martin) speculating on a cabinet shuffle. But the speculation that hits the most sensitive nerve are rumours that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who has remained in his portfolio since Stephen Harper formed government in 2006, will be given the boot and replaced by Environment Minister Jim Prentice.

"Pretty much every year, as regular as there is cabinet shuffle speculation, there will be Prentice-replacing-Flaherty-as-finance-minister speculation," a senior Conservative official says. (Is there a little bit of jockeying between Flaherty and Prentice officials as to who is the most effective minister?)

The official says that journalists have "foundered on this prediction before."

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In May 2008 there was speculation that Mr. Flaherty was "fending off a rear guard push from the government's best minister, Industry Minister Jim Prentice." It didn't happen.

And then the Martin column yesterday, which of course has created a buzz that despite Mr. Flaherty doing "reasonably well in this recession year" a "fresh face is required." And that fresh face would be? Jim Prentice, who is "coming from Calgary, where eliminating deficits through brutal spending cuts has been popular before."

Says the senior official: "I expect the same results as all the other times this speculation has been presented. As he prepares to introduce the second year of the two-year economic plan, Flaherty will remain as finance minister."

3. An Olympic mystery guest. At 2 o'clock this afternoon, the House of Commons will sit as committee of the whole to greet the Olympic flame. But it's a big, big secret as to who the athlete will be carrying the torch.

The PMO is not saying, the Speaker's Office is not saying. Sports Minister Gary Lunn knows but his office wants to keep it under wraps.

So some guesses: Senator Nancy Greene Raine? Local speed skater Kristina Groves? Or perhaps Olympic silver medalist Elizabeth Manley, whose cousin John, was once deputy prime minister?

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(Photo: Diplomat Richard Colvin testifies before a Commons committee last month. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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