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Liberals call Fantino's absence a 'stinging rebuke' to voters

In a photo supplied by the Liberal Party, Conservative candidate Julian Fantino's name tag is removed after he failed to show up for a debate in Vaughan, Ont., on Nov. 24, 2010.

Lorenzo Catuzza

1. Now you seem him, now you don't. Michael Ignatieff's Liberals are circulating pictures from an all-candidates meeting in Vaughan, Ont., Tuesday night to bolster their spin that star Conservative candidate Julian Fantino is running a peek-a-boo campaign.

It's getting nasty out there ahead of Monday's vote in three federal by-elections provoked by long-serving MPs stepping down to run municipally.

By all accounts the race in the Toronto-area riding is competitive between Liberal candidate Tony Genco and Mr. Fantino. The seat has been held by the Liberals for 22 years but the former Toronto police chief and former Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner is a formidable candidate and considered the front runner.

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Tuesday night, he was a no-show at a public forum organized by a local newspaper.

"Mr. Fantino was out of sight last night, having refused to accept any of the dates offered to him to participate in the local newspaper's all-candidates debate," a senior Ignatieff official told The Globe on Wednesday. "It's a stinging rebuke to all the people of Vaughan who showed up and for him to think he's above basic democracy and doesn't need to answer to the citizens he's running to represent."

Despite the outrage, the Tories had said last week Mr. Fantino would not be able to attend the event because of a family conflict. He had participated in a Rogers TV debate earlier that day.

The Conservatives are running a classic frontrunner campaign for Mr. Fantino, keeping him out of the spotlight to avoid any missteps. But he is active in safer venues, such as on social media.

In fact, the 68-year-old retired cop took to Twitter after he finished the television debate, showing he is engaging with his opponent despite the Liberal view. "Just finished up at the Rogers debate. Great discussion on the future of our community," he said. "Thanks to my fellow residents who asked questions."

2. Christian Paradis and his technicolour dreamcoat. The Hill was abuzz Tuesday with revelations about shady dealings over the rewarding of a $9-million renovation contract to a Montreal firm to repair the West Block.

As part of the testimony it was revealed that Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis had attended a fundraiser - when he was the Public Works minister - put on by the contractor. Mr. Paradis says his coat was stolen from that event and his aide asked that the cost of it be reimbursed.

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From there details get fuzzy with differing claims about the coat's value. It was either a $5,400 cashmere garment from Holt Renfrew or it was a discounted $600 wool wrap from a store in Mr. Paradis's Thetford Mines riding.

Here are the raw transcripts of post-Question Period scrums Tuesday. You be the judge to see how much more clarity they provide:

Mr. Paradis said: "Yeah, what happened to my coat, it was stolen. So in the days following, I ask my staff to make some checks with the riding association and hope to find it. And it wasn't find. So now I went to the police and I had a police report saying that the coat was stolen. Now I produced just before - I produced just before the invoice related to that coat and when it could not be find I asked through my staffer to the riding association if it was possible to have a compensation because I had to change my locks and plus to take into account a portion of the value of the coat. The association didn't want so I just close the file.

"But I just want to mention that from the testimony of today nothing new happened there. The question is was there any political interference in that and there was no interference."

NDP MP Pat Martin said: "I think this $5,400 coat was more a part of a kickback than it was, anything to do with losing your garment. I mean in the sworn testimony of [contractor Paul]Sauvé, he says that his office got called by Mr. Paradis's assistant, saying that Mr. Paradis has left his coat that he bought at Holt & Renfrew for $5,400 and we want you to pay for it, you know. This after he already put on one of these kickback cocktail parties, he is getting shaken down for the price of this coast too for five grand. Now Mr. Paradis is saying 'It has gone from Holt & Renfrew down to Zellers to Giant Tiger to...', now he would have us believe he got it at the Salvation Army or something, but this guy swore under oath his facts. I would like to see the minister swear under oath to attest to his side of the story too.

"It is a bloody disgrace, there is - there is a rats nest of kickbacks, corruption, bribery, influence peddling. I mean our department of Public Works has been compromised by a parcel of rogues who are selling contracts like party favors at these cocktail parties. The testimony we heard today would curl your hair, honest to God, the public should be horrified by this."

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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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