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Tories denounce NDP frontrunner Brian Topp as power-hungry union stooge

Stephen Harper's Conservative strategists wasted no time in putting their negative spin on the NDP's first declared leadership candidate, characterizing him Brian Topp as a scary union sympathizer.

"Topp is a union boss and has deep union ties," they say in a memo to MPs and party faithful. "How could Brian Topp speak on behalf of all Canadians, when he is so tied to big union special interests."

The memo notes that Mr. Topp has "ties to the United Steelworkers union's Canadian-born President Leo Gerard" and that he is executive director of the artists union, ACTRA Toronto.

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The Tories were successful at characterizing former and failed Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff as a power-hungry man, only coming back to Canada to become prime minister whatever the costs. Their negative framing was blamed, in part, for the Liberal humiliation at the polls in May.

Mr. Topp, however, has been in Canada all his life. He was flanked by influential former NDP leader Ed Broadbent and Quebec MP Francoise Boivin when he announced Monday he is seeking to replace Jack Layton.

The party president has never been elected to the House of Commons but was a close adviser to Mr. Layton and considered one of the architects of the NDP success in Quebec in the May election. In addition, he was one of the troika – along with former chief of staff Anne McGrath and Mr. Layton's wife, Toronto MP Olivia Chow – who helped the late leader craft his last letter to Canadians, which was sent out just hours after his death.

"Topp is not just the candidate of union bosses but also NDP insiders," the Tories say, noting that he worked for former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, former left-wing Toronto mayor David Miller and former NDP leader Audrey McLaughlin.

And if that does make Tories shake in their boots, the party back-roomers add that "Brian Topp is most notable for being NDP Leader's hand-picked negotiator in the coalition talks with the separatist Bloc Québécois."

True, Mr. Topp was aggressively pushing for an opposition coalition to topple the minority Harper government in 2008. As such, the Tories are taking a page from their attacks on Mr. Ignatieff to argue that "Brian Topp will do anything – including forming a wreckless [sic] coalition with separatists – in order to gain power."

Libyan progress or potential Chinese espionage?

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The stated topic is Libya but you can bet Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird will be fielding more than a few questions on the controversy swirling around his parliamentary secretary, Bob Dechert, and his amorous e-mails to a young Chinese journalist.

Mr. Baird has summoned reporters Tuesday morning to talk about Canada's efforts in Libya. No doubt he will trumpet the news that Ottawa's embassy in Tripoli is being reopened, with the assistance of Canadian troops, as the search for Moammar Gadhafi continues.

But the story about Mr. Dechert, the MP for Mississauga–Erindale, and his relationship with Shi Rong, the Toronto correspondent for China's state-controlled Xinhua News Agency, is not going away.

On Sunday, Mr. Baird told The Globe that Mr. Dechert would not be fired from his position as one of the Foreign Affairs Minister's two deputies. He characterized coverage of the Dechert affair as "ridiculous" – but he made his remarks during a quick conversation before a concert commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

On Tuesday, he will be asked in much more detail by journalists to explain why his government is not concerned about potential breaches of security and why Mr. Dechert remains in his job. Western counterintelligence organizations have likened Xinhua to an intelligence agency, and the NDP is calling for Mr. Dechert to resign his position at Foreign Affairs.

Jobs or health care?

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper has vowed to focus on jobs as the global economy continues its precarious slide. He made this clear at the Conservative's national caucus retreat in Ottawa last week.

The most recent Nanos Research poll conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV, however, shows that Canadians consider health care "the most important national issue of concern" – though the jobs issue is growing in importance.

Almost 31 per cent of those surveyed said medicare is top of mind compared to 26.3 per cent who believe it's the economy. Education comes in third with 6.7 per cent followed by the environment with 5.4 per cent.

In last month's Nanos poll, health care was still on top but at 33 per cent – it has dropped 2.2 points compared with the job issue which has increased by 3.3 percentage points in importance.

The survey of 1,210 Canadians was conducted between August 29th and September 1.

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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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