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Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes an announcement with Mayor David Miller at the Toronto Reference Library on Oct. 16, 2009.

MARK BLINCH

Stephen Harper travelled to downtown Toronto today - the heart of the Liberal Party's stronghold in Canada - in an effort to dispel criticism his Conservative government is favouring Tory ridings when doling out infrastructure dollars.

He also said opposition MPs should be working harder to convince Ottawa to direct stimulus to their ridings - just like Conservative MPs Jim Flaherty and Peter Kent have done for Ontario's capital city.

"That's what our people are doing. I would encourage them to do the same."

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The Prime Minister announced Ottawa and the City of Toronto would combine on a $9-million renovation of the central downtown reference library, and used the press conference to beat back Liberal charges that Ottawa's been using cash to reward those who voted Tory.

Research by the Liberals alleges that Conservative-held ridings get significantly more stimulus spending goodies. But Mr. Harper said his actions should prove otherwise.

"Well, here I am today," he said. "I have been on the road the last week. I've done four major announcements - [and]three were not in Conservative ridings," he said.

"We have 500 infrastructure projects related to the economic stimulus plan just here in the city of Toronto, where we do not have a single seat."

The Tories have also been taking heat for allowing MPs to hand out oversized prop cheques with big Conservative logos on them - a practice Mr. Harper said again is wrong.

The Prime Minister took a swipe at opposition parties, though, saying their MPs should be working harder in their respective ridings to convince Ottawa to apportion stimulus in their back yards.

"I would encourage the MPs of the other parties - rather than complain about these projects and complain about cheques - get out there and make something happen as well," he said.

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"That's what people want. They don't want people to just oppose everything in the middle of a recession. They want all parties working on the economy."

Separately, Mr. Harper said he hadn't seen 2006 reports by a Canadian diplomat warning of possible torture in Afghan prisons.

Choosing his words carefully, the Prime Minister said he never saw the reports "at that time."

As a public inquiry revealed earlier this week, almost from the start of its big 2006 push into southern Afghanistan, Canada's senior military and government officials were warned of "serious, imminent and alarming" problems with handing over captured prisoners to that country's notorious jails.

This politically explosive revelation, which emerged during a probe into whether Canada knowingly put Afghan detainees at risk of torture, shows a Canadian diplomat started red flagging detainee transfers in May, 2006, a full year before Ottawa acted to bolster safeguards for them.

It wasn't until May, 2007, that the Harper government overhauled its prisoner transfer agreement with the Afghan government, negotiating a new one that allowed for follow-up visits to ensure detainees weren't tortured. Before then, the Conservative government had fiercely defended the treatment of Afghans they had handed over to Kabul's security services for interrogation, with then-defence minister Gordon O'Connor saying if there was something wrong the Red Cross would have informed Canada.

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Avoiding the question of whether Canada found evidence of torture committed by Afghan security forces, Mr. Harper tried to make the case this subject was old news.

He said the revamped prisoner-transfer agreement of 2007 solved the problem.

"It's two and a half years ago now, I think. So we have acted on these findings long since these reports."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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