Day 6: The major news today may be Conservative Leader Stephen Harper committing to free trade, in particular the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), in Halifax this morning.

Harper pledges commitment to CETA: The Globe and Mail reports, “Stephen Harper will pledge deadlines for wrapping up free-trade talks with India and the European Union during a Thursday morning election campaign stop in Halifax (at Pier 21 at 10 a.m. AT). The Conservative Leader will lay out these promises during an event with Halifax-area Tory candidates — part of an effort to demonstrate how the party intends to foster economic growth and jobs by expanding foreign trade. …(CETA) negotiations were launched in May 2009 and six rounds have been conducted far. Last December both jurisdictions said they were on track to conclude in 2011 and two more rounds are set for April and July.”

The Council of Canadians: The Montreal Gazette and other newspapers across the country are reporting, “The Canada-European Union free trade agreement expected to be concluded later this year will bring less than half the benefits originally projected ($6 billion now rather than the projected $12 billion) when negotiations were announced in 2008, according to an EU-commissioned analysis. …Free trade critics say the report backs their argument Prime Minister Stephen Harper should postpone the next round of negotiations, to take place in April, so that Canadians can debate the issue during the election campaign. ‘Harper should explain why his government is ready to sell out Canada’s farmers, municipalities and public services for a measly $6 billion, or half what he wants to give away in corporate tax cuts over the coming years,’ Council of Canadians spokesperson Stuart Trew said Wednesday.”

Bulk water exports: The Globe and Mail reports, “Last year, the Harper government introduced a bill (C-26) designed to strengthen existing protections against bulk water removal, though some critics (including the Council of Canadians) contended it had loopholes. That bill, however, was never debated in Parliament and is one of several pieces of legislation that died on the order paper because of the election call. …In Canada, MPs of all political stripes are in no mood to entertain water exports. Mr. Chrétien’s call for a debate (last week) was essentially rejected by the NDP, the federal Conservative government, and the party he led for nearly 13 years, the Liberals. All said they oppose large water exports. …(Still) despite persistent public opposition, the export debate has never entirely receded in Canada.”

TV debates dates set: The Vancouver Sun reports, “The English-language televised federal election debate is scheduled to take place on Tuesday April 12, with the French debate to follow two nights later (on April 14).” The debates will take place in Ottawa.

Harper’s hit list: Dennis Gruending writes on, “The list of organizations that have been shut down and cut back, and the individuals bullied, is a long one. We can expect it to grow if, as seems likely, Harper is re-elected. …Here, then, is an unofficial list of organizations whose funding has been cut or ended by the Harper government, including government agencies that supported civil society groups. The following list was compiled primarily by Judith Szabo and by Pearl Eliadis for Voices, a coalition of organizations and individuals which describes itself as ‘united in defence of democracy, free speech and transparency in Canada.’ The list is available here.

Harper’s ‘arc of duplicity’: University of Waterloo professor Ramesh Thakur writes in The Australian, “At a time when Arabs risk life and limb for political freedoms, Canadians seem largely apathetic about the erosion of their democracy. …Civil society groups that criticize any government policy or ideology risk loss of funding and hostile takeovers by boards stacked with pro-government ciphers. Little wonder Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin describes the government’s ‘arc of duplicity’ as ‘remarkable to behold.’ What remains unclear is whether this adds up to an indictment of Canadians’ indifference to democratic rights being curtailed or of the opposition parties, which have failed to harness the silent majority’s outrage.” His full commentary is here.

Where the leaders are today: Stephen Harper will be in Halifax, then St. John’s (to promise a federal loan guarantee for a huge hydroelectric development in Labrador that would send power to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia through subsea cables). Michael Ignatieff will be in Winnipeg then London Ontario. Jack Layton will be in Montreal then Sudbury in the evening. Gilles Duceppe will be in Montreal, then near Trois-Rivieres and along the St. Lawrence River Valley.

Today’s polls: Embassy magazine reports, “An early campaign poll (by Forum Research of Canada) has found more than 60 per cent of Canadian voters are on the same side as the opposition parties on two of the costliest government expenditures at stake in the federal election — a minimum $4-billion corporate tax cut next year and a fleet of new fighter jets that will cost taxpayers at least between $16-billion and $29.3-billion over the next 20 years.” Additionally, a Nanos poll, commissioned by CP24, CTV and the Globe and Mail, found that 28 per cent of voters listed health care as their top priority, 20 per cent listed jobs and the economy as a key issue, followed by education (7.9 per cent), high taxes (4.8 per cent), and the environment (4.7 per cent).

And the Globe and Mail reports, “The Conservative lead over the Liberals literally shrunk overnight from 10 points to just over six, according to a Nanos Research poll of voting intentions for the Globe and Mail and CTV.” The Conservatives are up to 39.1 per cent (from 38.4), the Liberals jumped to 32.7 per cent (from 28.7), the NDP dropped to 15.9 per cent (from 19.6), the Bloc remains at 8.7 per cent, and the Greens dipped to 3.7 per cent (down from 4.1 per cent). “So far, 21.7 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they were undecided.”

Brent Patterson, Political Director, Council of Canadians

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Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist, writer and the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. He lives in Ottawa on the traditional, unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Algonquin...