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Harper's former polling watchdog seeks Bloc seat

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe hams it up with star recruit Daniel Paille at a press conference in Montreal on Sept. 4, 2009 .

Paul Chiasson

An investigator hired by the Harper government two years ago to delve into the federal polling practices of the ex-Liberal government is returning to his Quebec sovereigntist roots.

Daniel Paille was named the Bloc Québécois' economic adviser during a news conference Friday and also announced he would also seek the Bloc nomination in the Montreal riding of Hochelaga.

The former Parti Québécois provincial minister was given a $1-million budget in 1997 to examine the polling practices of the Liberals.

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The decision by Prime Minister Stephen Harper drew condemnation from opponents over the notion that Mr. Paille would be granted unfettered access to the books of his federalist opponents from the 1995 referendum.

They decried the move a conflict of interest and sputtered that the Tories' partisanship was so boundless that they would even undermine national unity if offered a chance to smear the Liberals.

It's a complaint Mr. Paille – who worked as an auditor, economist and tax expert after leaving provincial politics – scoffs at.

"It was part of my professional life and that's it," he said. "They never asked me about any political opinion. They hired me to do a job. I did it. That's it, that's all."

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe pointed to Mr. Paille's final report as proof of his good faith.

He was hired to probe the Liberals, but Mr. Paille wound up dishing more dirt on the Tories in his final report.

Tasked with looking into federal spending from the 1990s to 2003, Mr. Paille took it upon himself to probe the polling practices of the government up to the present day.

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He concluded that the Conservative government commissioned more than two polls per business day in 2007 – a figure he called "quite astounding."

According to his report, the Tories spent $31.2-million on opinion research that year – more than any previous year and nearly twice the $18-million spent on average during the Liberal years.

The Conservatives sat on the report for two months before making it public.

"There was no conflict of interest at all. In fact, [Mr. Paille]made a very good report and the Tories were not that happy when they looked at that report," Mr. Duceppe said Friday.

"This is not Daniel Paille's problem, this is Stephen Harper's problem."

Asked to comment on Mr. Paille's appointment, a Harper spokesman replied with a wisecrack.

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"The global economic recession started over a year ago and a year later the Bloc Québécois realized that they needed an economic adviser," Dimitri Soudas said in an email.

Mr. Paille said he looks forward to joining the Bloc and has admired the party for a long time.

He said he intends to fight Ottawa on its plan to create a national securities regulator, and criticized what he called the Tories' stubbornness on tax harmonization.

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