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Liberals decry Conservative anti-CBC 'witch hunt'

1. From the culture-war trenches. Michael Ignatieff's Liberals are accusing Stephen Harper's Conservatives of mounting a "witch hunt" against EKOS pollster Frank Graves.

The Grits are unimpressed with the Commons committee probe being pushed by Dean Del Mastro, the Peterborough Conservative and parliamentary secretary to the Heritage Minister. He wants MPs to investigate the connections between the CBC and its pollster; his motion to launch a probe is to be dealt with tomorrow.

Mr. Graves set off the Tories with his recent assertions that the Liberals should launch a "culture war" in order to emphasize the differences between the two main parties.

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"They should have an interest in clearing this up and distancing themselves," argues Mr. Del Mastro, who was insulted by some of the remarks made by Mr. Graves. "If they vote against the motion they hand us this issue in the next campaign."

The Conservatives are alleging that Mr. Graves is a Liberal partisan, paid with taxpayer dollars to present anti-Tory findings on the CBC. The Harper Conservatives dislike the CBC, saying that public broadcaster has a decidedly Liberal bias.

Ironically, the main Tory behind the anti-CBC campaign is Doug Finley, who himself is in the taxpayer-trough given he receives a Senate salary and all the perks that go with it and his wife, Diane Finley, is a senior cabinet minister.

Mr. Finley, as the Conservative campaign director, has launched an anti-CBC fundraising effort at the same time as Mr. Del Mastro's bid to launch this committee probe.

The Grits, meanwhile, are hitting back with a series of talking points distributed to their supporters and MPs. "This motion is little more than a witch hunt and the latest in Conservative attacks on private Canadians and groups who do not share their views," the Liberal memo says.

"Intimidation and reprisals are totally unacceptable in our democracy. These tactics are part and parcel of the Conservative culture of contempt and deceit."

The document asserts the Conservatives are "casting a chill" on democracy by "denying funding to groups that speak out against the Conservative agenda and smearing whistleblowers and public servants who step forward."

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This, of course is a reference to the Tory attempts to besmirch the character of senior diplomat Richard Colvin, whose concerns about potential Afghan torture helped to launch the detainee investigations.

The Liberal talking points also emphasize that Mr. Graves has never been hired by the Liberal Party for polling or strategic advice.

And they note the hypocrisy of the Tory outcry over Mr. Graves while there is silence as to the relationship between the CBC and Kory Teneycke, the Prime Minister's former director of communications who is paid by the CBC to present the Harper team's view on the network.

2. Fiddling while Rome burns. What do MPs do when House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken is delivering a very long and complicated but crucial ruling on the future of Canadian democracy?

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson appeared to listen intently. But Labour Minister Lisa Raitt practiced her French, studying her "Moi, je parle francais" book. And Quebec Tory MP Maxime Bernier doodled on a pad of paper.

What will MPs do for two weeks while the government and opposition try to work out a compromise or face the prospect of a snap election? Industry Minister Tony Clement has a plan: "I'm gonna give myself a two week deadline to learn string theory and memorize Jabberwocky."

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3. The circus is back in town. Toronto businessman Nazim Gillani, the man at the center of lobbying allegations against Rahim Jaffer, testifies before the Commons government operations committee this afternoon. We'll be live-blogging the event beginning at 3 p.m.

The Globe's Daniel Leblanc, meanwhile, reveals this morning that the company the disgraced Tory is alleged to have promoted to the government in his wife's parliamentary office last year is a U.S.-Canadian firm developing technology to reduce mercury emissions in coal plants.

According to sources, the company is RLP Energy Inc. and documents passed on to the committee investigating the matter by Environment Minister Jim Prentice give details of "multiple exchanges" between Mr. Jaffer and the minister's office.

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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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