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Toronto to the Polls - The (first) Week in Review

A week by week election crib-note.

Today ends the first week of the -surprisingly clean- Federal Election campaign, and from a media spotlight perspective, it can only be said to have belonged to Stephen Harper. For better or worse (and he's had more than his share of both already in this nascent campaign) he stole the spotlight early with a few well timed policy announcements and has managed to keep the news about him all week.

The other major event of the first week was the announcment of star candidates, and in this field, Paul Martin scored big. While the NDP has yet to announce any exciting new candidates (the everpresent Ms Chow and Mr Robinson don't count) and the Tories declaring civil-servant (and Gomery whistleblower) Allan Cutler as their star of the moment, the Liberals have claimed at least two major candidates: astronaut Marc Garneau, and academic Michael Ignatief, both of whom will surely cruise into cabinet posts should the Liberals claim victory 7 weeks from now.

The Tories blundered badly on the opening day of the campaign when Harper made a declaration that his party would re-open debate on same-sex marriage. While this notion probably has lots of traction out in the West, that's not where the Conservatives need any support - those seats are already a gimme. In Toronto and the hinterland, same-sex marriage is a dead issue, and bringing this up will only come back to haunt the Blues. Although the strategy of 'get it out of the way quickly' seems to be working for now, expect the Grits to bring it up again around week 5 of the campaign if their support is flagging.

The other major announcement, the GST cut had the opposite effect. Both popular and in contrast to the other parties' policies, it is a plank that is likely to make a difference for swing voters. It is also the only tax cut that will put money in the pockets of the lowest income Canadians - those who's earnings are low enough that they don't pay income taxes already. Expect to see a plank offering a raise in the Basic Personal Exemption (probably to about $15,000) coming from the Tories, the Grits, and the Greens shortly.

The candidacy of Micheal Ignatieff is proving to be both a boon and a barrier for the governing Liberals. He's a fantastic candidate (intelligent, charismatic, knowledgeable), even though he may rub some supporters the wrong way for having supported the war against Iraq. Where his candidacy will prove most problematic however is in the treatment of his local riding association - in order to parachute him in, the Liberal party had to disqualify two local, active potential nominees, one of whom is the riding president. A smear campaign (alledging Dr Ignatieff to be anti-Ukrainian) has since ensued, and there is word that a large group of riding members may campaign for the Tories out of spite. The riding (Etobicoke-Lakeshore) will still be easily won by the Harvard professor, but unless he takes steps to molify the volunteers, it could prove a major headache for all concerned.

That's the campaign week in review. Sit tight, it's going to be a long one.

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