JOE FRIESEN and OMAR EL AKKAD AND BILL CURRY
TORONTO, EDMUNSTON, N.B., MONTREAL — In the latest chapter of Canada's culture war, author Margaret Atwood led the applause for Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe Friday, saying she would – if she lived in Quebec – vote for the separatist party to stop Stephen Harper from forming a government.
Ms. Atwood sat at the head table for Mr. Duceppe's speech to the Economic Club of Toronto, his only foray outside Quebec during the campaign, and burst out clapping when the Bloc Leader criticized the Conservative Leader for his cuts to arts funding and what he called his ideological approach to the economy.
“When Stephen Harper talks about the ordinary Quebecker who supposedly does not care about culture and about artists attending galas, he is not only insulting people, he is missing the point. In Quebec, and I think in Canada, the presence of Ms. Atwood reminds us, not only is culture the backbone of our national identity, it is also a huge part of our economy,” Mr. Duceppe said, referring to a recent Conference Board of Canada study that said cultural activities contribute $84-billion to the economy.
“Our culture cannot be outsourced to China. Culture is our future, as much to nourish our souls as to nourish our stomachs. We don't want to live on Planet Hollywood.”
Canadian author Margaret Atwood speaks during a press conference in 2006.
Ms. Atwood, who described her support for Mr. Duceppe as “ironic” given his pledge to build a sovereign Quebec, said he has a better grasp of the economy than the Conservative Leader. Although she lives in Toronto and has voted for every political party from the Conservatives to the Greens in previous elections, Ms. Atwood is encouraging Canadians to vote for the candidate in their riding who can stop a Conservative from winning. “I'm here because Mr. Duceppe understands the contribution that culture makes to our economy. He understands $84-billion, and he understands 1.1 million jobs,” she said.
Mr. Harper spent much of Friday blasting Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion's 30-day plan to deal with the economic crisis, calling it a panicky response that amounts to a promise to start thinking about doing something. “If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there,” he told a partisan crowd at a rally in Edmundston, N.B., borrowing a line from Lewis Carroll. “Without a road map or a plan, don't take the Canadian economy for a ride.”
Mr. Dion, campaigning in Montreal, acknowledged that the 30-day plan that he proposed during this week's leaders debates would spend money already budgeted by the Conservative government.
“There's a lot of money in the pipeline able to go right away to create jobs and to create the infrastructure that we need,” Mr. Dion said.Mr. Dion also repeated the call he first made Friday morning for “progressive” voters to unite behind the Liberal banner, and expressed hope that public opinion will “polarize” into a two-way race between Liberals and Tories.
NDP Leader Jack Layton's party is making the same pitch. The days ahead are likely to feature a fierce battle between the Liberals and NDP to capitalize on the debates and position themselves as the main option for non-Tory voters.
Meanwhile, the Tories tried to douse the flames of another plagiarism accusation Friday. After a staffer was forced to resign for copying large portions of a speech for Mr. Harper on Iraq from an address given days earlier by an Australian prime minister, the Liberals have unearthed another example: A 2003 speech by Mr. Harper contained 44 words, or two paragraphs, that closely match a speech given two months earlier by Ontario premier Mike Harris. The Liberals called it further proof of Mr. Harper's intellectual dishonesty.
Audience numbers for the English leaders' debate show an average audience of three million, and that almost three times as many Canadians watched it than took in the U.S. vice-presidential debate, according to CTV.
With a report from the Canadian Press