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Ignatieff draws a dual bead on Harper's ethics and fiscal acumen

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff pulls off his reading glasses during a luncheon speech in Quebec City on March 14, 2011.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

1. Liberals broaden their attack. Michael Ignatieff will campaign against Stephen Harper on a question of whether Canadians "can trust this guy with power." In addition to a number of ethical controversies, the Prime Minister is also spending like a "drunken sailor."

These two issues - the spending spree and the ethical challenges - will form the basis of a Liberal campaign that could begin as early as Saturday.

"This is becoming a central issue," a feisty and energetic Liberal Leader told CTV's Question Period Sunday as he listed off a growing number of recent Tory troubles, including two RCMP investigations, Election Canada charges and two possible contempt findings.

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"I mean we've got a pattern of ethical lapses. We've got a pattern of abuse of power, and I think they're making the wrong economic choices. So that's the kind of issue we want to put in front of the Canadian people," he said.

He also took aim at a perceived Conservative strength. Turning the tables on the Tory line that Liberals want to create big, expensive programs, Mr. Ignatieff accused Mr. Harper of being a poor economic manager.

"He's dropped us in the biggest deficit in our history. He's spending like a drunken sailor, especially in the last week," Mr. Ignatieff said, referring to a series of announcements made by Tory ministers and MPs during the Commons break. "He went across the country promising last week, it's a billion dollars. And that kind of pattern of waste and highly partisan spending just to win another election is the kind of thing that destroys his credibility as an economic manager."

Mr. Ignatieff would not commit, however, to bringing down the government either over the budget or ethical breaches. Rather, he told Question Period he wants to wait to see how the week plays out.

The Liberals have an opportunity to bring in a motion of no-confidence Friday, their opposition day. A series of votes on money matters, including the estimates, which are considered matters of confidence are also scheduled that day. A defeat for the government on any one of these could force an election.

There is a view among some Liberals it would be wiser to bring down the government over its ethics problems rather than over a budget that could offer some attractive goodies to Canadians. But Mr. Ignatieff maintains the two are linked.

"This government is making the wrong economic choices and it's abusing power," he said. "And when we have an election, whether it's this week or next year, those will be the fundamental issues. And they're locked together, and the judgment about the budget is not just a judgment about a budget, it's a judgment about a government."

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2. Tories prove best of a bad lot. A new poll suggests Michael Ignatieff may want to rethink his two ballot box questions. An Ipsos Reid survey shows Stephen Harper's Tories trump the Liberals on both the question of running an ethical government and on being good economic managers.

Darrell Bricker, the polling firm's chief executive, blames the sponsorship scandal. Despite changing leaders and three elections, the Liberals have not "been successful in wiping away the stain of Adscam," he told The Globe on Monday.

"Second, the scandals that the opposition parties believe should be hobbling the government haven't yet penetrated the consciousness of the voting public," Mr. Bricker said. "That's because they largely involve fairly technical issues that require a much clearer narrative than they currently have. So for the ethics issue to really bite we need an obvious ethical transgression. Plus, we need a challenger whose own ethics are beyond reproach. We don't have that yet."

Mr. Bricker's poll, which was conducted for Postmedia News and Global National, found that 28 per cent of Canadians think the Conservatives would do the best job of providing honest and trustworthy government. This compares to 22 per cent for the NDP and only 15 per cent for the Liberals.

On the issue of managing the economic recovery, 37 per cent of Canadians believe the Tories can do it best compared to 20 per cent for the Liberals and only 14 per cent for the NDP. Again on a question of keeping taxes under control, 36 per cent believe the Tories are the best to do this compared to 17 per cent for the Liberals and 16 per cent for the NDP.

It's not all good news for the Prime Minister, however. A Nanos Research poll conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV also reveals a sharp drop in Mr. Harper's leadership score over the past month as ethical scandals were percolating.

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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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