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Tory war machine willfully ignores Justin Trudeau’s white flag

1. The gloves are always off. On the moral outrage front, Stephen Harper's Conservatives won hands-down on Tuesday. The focus of their attention were so-called honour killings, which are described in the latest government citizenship study guide as "barbaric."

Liberal immigration Justin Trudeau caused a firestorm after he told a reporter he was "uncomfortable" with the term, arguing it was "pejorative." That set the Tory spin machine into overdrive, as it pumped out memos condemning the Montreal MP. By 10 a.m., however, it was all over as far as most were concerned; Mr. Trudeau apologized and retracted his comments.

But it wasn't over for the Tories. And the manner in which they tried to squeeze out even more outrage shows the mood here in political Ottawa, where a general election could be just days away. Much is at stake; the accusations, the rhetoric and the verbal jousting has become ever more aggressive.

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The Tories, sensing they had a Liberal superstar on the ropes, kept the issue alive. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney appeared on talk radio shows, questioning the sincerity of Mr. Trudeau's apology. Another MP issued a terse press release calling for Mr. Trudeau to be dumped from Mr. Ignatieff's shadow cabinet.

The Conservatives even issued another set of talking points Tuesday night, criticizing the Liberal Leader for refusing to fire Mr. Trudeau. "Michael Ignatieff defends Trudeau dismissal of 'honour killings'," the Tories charged.

"Michael Ignatieff needs to fire Justin Trudeau as his immigration critic, stop the Liberal Party's trivialization of the suffering of immigrant women, and support the government calling 'honour killings' a barbaric cultural practice," they say.

In The Ottawa Citizen Wednesday, however, columnist Dan Gardner provides another perspective – and an instructive one at that – as he exposes what he believes the Harper Tories are really up to.

"The words 'culture' and 'barbaric' are hot-buttons," Mr. Gardner writes. "And this document was written under the direction of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, a man so thoroughly political he undoubtedly dreams of stump speeches, polls and calculations. Conclusion: It was bait.

"Kenney was just fishing for a dumb bass. And he landed a beauty" when Mr. Trudeau opened his mouth. Mr. Gardner then examined the Tory reaction, especially from the Prime Minister's director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, who used Twitter to publicly demand the Liberal MP apologize to victims of honour killings and their families.

"Whether Trudeau's objection was right or wrong, he never said anything to belittle the moral gravity of honour killings," Mr. Gardner argues. "Indeed, he was explicit about that. But still the prime minister's personal spokesman saw an opening for a vicious attack. So he took it. How utterly typical."

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Mr. Gardner says everything is black or white for Tories – you're with them or you're against them. And he concludes that, in their own minds, "Conservatives are outsiders."

"They have to fight dirty because power lies with the ruthless and entrenched elite. It's civil war. And it never ends."

It should be an interesting election campaign.

2. Flirting with majority. As all parties prepare to go into battle Wednesday morning at the Commons committee dealing with the two contempt issues, the Conservatives can find solace in another set of encouraging poll numbers.

Ipsos Reid's latest survey has the Tories up by 13 points, polling at 40 per cent compared to 27 per cent for the Liberals. The NDP has 16 per cent support compared to 11 per cent for the Bloc and 5 per cent for the Green Party.

The poll, conducted for Postmedia News and Global National, was conducted between March 7 and 9.

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Ipsos chief executive Darrell Bricker told The Globe the Tories could form a majority government with these numbers, depending where the votes fall. "They have a big lead in Ontario," he said. "That's the key. Chrétien won a healthy majority with less than 40 in '97 mainly because he swept Ontario."

In terms of the budget as possible election trigger, Mr. Bricker said most Canadians are divided on who to blame if the government falls. "This ambiguity works to the government's advantage because it means that it can ignore the Opposition's budget demands and not get blamed for the consequences," he said.

The bigger issue, however, is that Canadians are not clear what an election would be about if it were to happen. "These 'Seinfeld' elections are dangerous for all of the parties. … To me, it feels like '88. Then, the Tories went to the polls without a burning issue, and got caught flat-footed by a Liberal leader (Turner) that they under-estimated, on an issue that they didn't understand (free trade)," Mr. Bricker said.

"At the start of the campaign few people knew or cared about free trade. By the end, the Tories were just about blown away by it. They saved their hides in the last two weeks with an ad campaign that's not dissimilar to the campaign that the current Conservatives are running against the Liberal Leader."

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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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