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morning buzz

Mayoral candidate Rob Ford speaks to supporters as he leaves a debate in Toronto on Sept. 7, 2010.Kevin Van Paassen

1. 'A free-floating, anti-incumbency thing.' A new poll shows a deadlock on the federal front with Stephen Harper's Conservatives still slightly ahead of Michael Ignatieff's Liberals - exactly the same results as a month ago.

The Ipsos Reid survey has the Tories at 34 per cent support of decided voters compared to 31 per cent for the Grits. This, pollster Darrell Bricker notes, is where the two main parties were in August, despite a summer in which the Tories had some big flops and the Liberals appeared to have had some successes with their cross-county bus tour.

"What that suggests to me is that people aren't really taking their cues out of what's coming out of Ottawa right now," Mr. Bricker told the Globe and Mail on Tuesday. "They have kind of made up their minds about these things. ... All this stuff, while it's bouncing between North Gower and Aylmer [the borders of the Ottawa bubble] it's not really affecting what Canadians think."

His poll, conducted between Sept. 8 and Sept. 12, shows the NDP with 16 per cent support, the Bloc at 10 per cent and the Green Party with 9 per cent.

The most interesting piece from the poll is the volatility in Ontario - the Liberals are leading in the vote-rich province with 41 per cent compared to 33 per cent for the Conservatives. But Mr. Bricker said this could switch just as easily to a Tory lead by next month.

Even more instructive is the situation in Toronto. Mr. Bricker is detecting an "anti-incumbency" mood among Toronto voters considering the race for mayor. That atmosphere has made Rob Ford, the right-wing and very colourful candidate, the surprising front-runner in the campaign.

"It's kind of that mood that existed back in 1995 when Mike Harris won where people were so upset with the incumbents they were going to go as far in the other direction as they possibly could," he said. "He is the symbolism of 'I hate everything about this'."

Mr. Bricker said this mood is mostly geared toward municipal race but could have repercussions federally, which could help Michael Ignatieff.

"The question is in Ottawa: Are the Tories perceived as being representative of what's wrong in Ottawa or not? I don't think people have made up their mind yet," Mr. Bricker said. "But there is a bit of a free-floating, anti-incumbency thing."

2. Skating on thin ice. Jim Flaherty, the man guarding the federal purse, says the government is still looking at ways of funding a new multi-million dollar arena for Quebec City.

His comments reflect those of his boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is cool to the idea because of the ballooning deficit and his vows to get it under control, but has not yet ruled out providing millions of dollars of taxpayer money for the rink - one that could potentially house an NHL team.

Quebec has asked the federal government to pony up $180-million of a $400-million sports venue. "Obviously my plan is to get back to a balanced budget in the intermediate term," Mr. Flaherty told CTV's Power Play Monday. "So any programs that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money that we would have to borrow are not programs that are near and dear to my heart."

But clearly not that far from his mind. He told CTV there are creative ways of looking at the situation "and various ways of perhaps structuring something."

He added: "But we'll have to wait and see and watch and we have to always be mindful that professional sports are businesses and not non-profit organizations and that's part of the consideration, of course."

The Prime Minister was in the province Monday talking to party faithful. Though he did back away from the issue, he also refused to rule out federal help for the arena. Mr. Harper emphasized the fact that funding would not just be for Quebec City; other cities with similar requests would have to be considered:

"I know there are more demands for new infrastructure for the NHL and the CFL here and in many other cities across the country," Mr. Harper told the crowd who waited in anticipation for his remarks on the proposed arena project. "My friends, we are all great fans of professional sports. But professional sports are first and foremost the responsibility of the private sector. And if there is a role for the federal government, it must be equitable across the country and also affordable."

Similarly, Mr. Flaherty told CTV: "We are a national government. We have to take a pan-Canadian approach to these types of issues. So there is an opportunity to review the situation but it can't be a program for just one place."