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One of the frequently asked questions of Elections Canada is: "Is someone allowed to eat a ballot?"

Surprisingly, this is a valid and important question, according to the organization. On its website it says, "Eating a ballot, not returning it or otherwise destroying or defacing it constitutes a serious breach of the Canada Elections Act."

Indeed, spokeswoman Isabelle Bouchard said there have been some Canadians in previous elections who wanted to use their vote for protest. "They don't want to vote and they go and they take their ballot and they eat it," she said.

Elections Canada statistics show that in the 2000 election, six members of the Edible Ballot Society were charged with willfully destroying a ballot. Two were found not guilty for lack of evidence, and charges against the other four were stayed. The Edible Ballot Society wants people to protest against the shallowness of the electoral process by eating their ballots. "Voting is not only useless, it actually undermines genuine democracy by legitimizing an inherently undemocratic process," the society's website says.

So it provides tips on how to deal with this: "When you receive your ballot from the poll clerk, be careful. Hold the ballot gingerly between two fingers. If it moves, drop it immediately and step on it," the site instructs. ". . .Examine the ballot. If you feel overwhelmed by the vast array of choices, then you are not at a polling station, you are in a supermarket." The group suggests that the trick to eating your ballot is to cook it with "lots of strong spices" to mask the "bitter taste of big business and money."


Election forecast

Pollsters are hired to accurately predict the outcome of election campaigns, and former Liberal pollster Michael Marzolini has had his share of accurate ones. However, in a speech this week to the Economic Club of Toronto, Mr. Marzolini suggested that the battle is so tight it could all come down to the weather: "If there is rain in Vancouver, Paul Martin could win. If there is an ice storm in Toronto, then Stephen Harper could win. And if it snows in hell, Jack Layton will win."

Mr. Marzolini then went on to say that his poll of 1,260 Canadians found they are optimistic about the economy. However, he found there has not been "much positive impact on Canadians' personal financial expectations."

Mr. Marzolini said Canadians' lack of financial progress has affected the election. "Both major parties have been forced, by public opinion, to give greater emphasis to tax cuts, rather than to spending," he said.

"This is a direct appeal to the 86 per cent of Canadians whose real incomes are falling behind or standing still."

Hot and not

Hot: Steve Paikin. The co-host of TVO's Studio 2 is moderating the English-language leaders debate in Montreal on Monday night. And Mr. Paikin, who is known for his objectivity, is taking his role very seriously. Since the election was called he has talked to candidates, he has read everything he can get his hands on about the election, and he is now working with officials from the television network consortium on the second draft of the questions he will pose to the leaders (it will not be the last draft). He said his e-mail has been "humming like crazy" with suggestions from others about what he should ask. He said there will be some opportunities for more engagement between the leaders in this debate. Is the seasoned journalist nervous? "You bet your ass I am!"

Hot: Gilles Duceppe. The Bloc Leader is a grandfather for the second time. His daughter-in-law gave birth to a daughter, Jeanne, yesterday. She's 5 pounds 3 ounces. Meanwhile, the BQ candidate in Lasalle-Emard, May Chiu, who is running against Mr. Martin, is also about to give birth. Her baby is expected on election day, but she says she'll be induced a week earlier.

Not: The moles. It's like Spy vs. Spy in the Liberal and Conservative camps as the paranoia level increases the closer we get to Jan. 23. The Martin Liberals believe a mole (a Liberal Chrétien-type mole) is leaking their policy initiatives to the media, and some Tories suspect a Liberal might be listening in on their morning strategy calls. Talk about ethical behaviour.

Hot: Hockey fan Stephen Harper. The Conservative Leader, who is an armchair sports nut, took time out from his campaign last night to watch Canada play the Russians in the world junior hockey championship. He and the journalists who are trailing him cheered on Team Canada at a downtown Toronto hotel bar.