Stephen Harper was first out of the gate this morning. He bussed supporters to a cargo dock in Halifax and kept the media fenced 40 feet away from his podium. His announcement highlighted the eight free-trade agreements the Conservatives have completed while in office. (Conveniently, he didn't mention that it was his own cabinet’s incompetence that nearly spiked the Colombia free-trade agreement, which was saved by Liberal Scott Brison's negotiation of the addition of a human rights agreement.) He also revealed that there are two more in the works; the Canada-EU agreement should be completed by next year (a year behind schedule), while the Canada-India pact is due by 2013. Oh, and he added that an Ignatieff-led government (avoiding the term “coalition”) couldn’t make such agreements because they would be a “gong show” of internal dispute. Harper then proceeded to get snippy with reporters by refusing to answer why he wouldn’t campaign outside of a carefully screened bubble.
Shortly thereafter, Michael Ignatieff was at a daycare centre in Winnipeg; he announced that a Liberal government would immediately set up an annual $500 million fund – which would ramp up to $1 billion annually within four years – for provinces to cut waiting lists for childcare through creating new spaces, training new staff and other mechanisms. Ignatieff said the fund must be flexible because childcare is under provincial jurisdiction and he wanted to get this out without taking the time needed to negotiate new agreements. The scrum that followed (note – no cage for the journalists) included a question on the issue of Libya. Ignatieff said that we should focus on the responsibility to protect rather than arm rebels or put troops on the ground. He added that our loss of a seat on the UN Security Council means that Canada isn’t part of this important conversation.
(Predictably, social conservative groups have immediately decried this funding as an attack on families.)
In Montreal, Jack Layton launched the NDP's Quebec campaign, saying that the NDP can prevent a Harper majority. He went on to make the announcement that an NDP government would kill the tax subsidies to oil companies and use the money to fund clean-energy initiatives. When asked if he needs to refocus his campaign because of yesterday’s defection, Layton said that he’s already “focused like a laser beam” to defeat the Conservatives. Yes, he actually said that. On the subject of Libya, Layton said he was concerned that “mission creep” might lead to boots on the ground or a regime change.
As for the meta-debate over the leaders' debate, it seems that Elizabeth May remains out, and Harper has backed out of doing a one-on-one with Ignatieff. He now says he would have done either a one-on-one or a full leaders' debate, but not both. And he’s spent the entire morning being called out because of it. Paul Wells reminisces about a similar incident between Duceppe and Paul Martin, and look how well that turned out for Martin.
Elections Canada has set a $21 million spending cap for this election. (But no, it isn’t retroactive to all that pre-writ advertising the parties put out.)
And in other news, it seems the Supreme Court will hear the challenge on prostitution laws.