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Jump in polls likely premature

Oda flap could hit once-surging Tories

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OTTAWA -- Few things can get political tongues wagging more than the latest poll results.

In the last week, four of them delivered a surprising boost to the Conservatives and a painful wallop to Liberal fortunes.

It started Feb. 12 with a poll from Ekos, which gave the Conservatives a sudden 12.5-point lead over the Liberals, nearly doubling the gap from a month earlier. It was such a quick jump, even the Conservative spin machine discounted it.

But since then, three additional polls delivered similar results. All showed the Conservatives with a double-digit lead, edging close to majority territory.

The Conservatives aren't questioning the results of those.

Most pundits factor the movement to Conservative attack ads on Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

Queue the election speculation please. Line up more attack ads.

Maybe not so fast.

All the polls were taken before the growing questions about how International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda altered a memo approving funding for an aid agency by inserting "not" into the sentence that approved the funding.

Aside from the fact this change completely reversed the meaning of a note already signed by a high-level bureaucrat without her knowledge, Oda then failed to own up to the change when asked about it at a Parliamentary committee. She said she didn't know how the memo had come to be altered.

She changed her tune last week, setting in motion attacks on her credibility and calls for her resignation. She may become the first minister to ever be held in contempt of Parliament.

The government's defence job was decidedly weak.

Oda was seldom allowed to answer for herself. Instead she was relegated to being hidden from prying cameras by fellow cabinet minister Rona Ambrose carefully placed sitting positions, while Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Government House Leader John Baird played defence.

But their attempts to try and spin the question to be about whether or not Oda actually had authority to deny the funding fell flat. By Friday they tried to turn down the heat by blaming it on an Oda aide saying he changed the memo and stamped Oda's signature while she was out of town.

But Canadians don't seem to buy it. An Angus Reid poll released Saturday showed a majority of Canadians didn't think Oda or the government passed the smell test on this one. One-third believed Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued the directive to have the memo changed.

The issue of funding to an aid agency might not be a make-or-break issue for voters but honesty and integrity in government can be.

Perhaps that is why, despite polls suggesting the wind was in his sails, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reached out to the NDP and invited leader Jack Layton for a conversation Friday.

There isn't a truce worked out yet but one might believe if Harper thought the polls would keep moving in his favour, he'd have no reason to chat with his political enemies.

-- -- --

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has had a rough start to 2011.

Its decision to ban companies from selling unlimited Internet use for a set fee set off a firestorm and marked the second time in two years the government overruled the CRTC.

Its plan to amend broadcasting rules to allow people to put misinformation on television as long as it doesn't endanger somebody's life had Canadians howling in protest. So much so that CRTC head Konrad von Finckenstein backpedalled on it late last week.

But the agency might finally be working on a issue that will make all Canadians happy.

Von Finckenstein signalled Friday the CRTC will look at forcing broadcasters not to air television commercials at higher volumes than the television shows during which they air.

Having spent several hours on the weekend turning the volume up and down between commercials while I watched the pooches strut their stuff at the 2011 Westminster Kennel Club dog show, the change cannot come too soon.

The CRTC signal came just days after Tory backbencher Nina Grewal introduced a private member's bill to do the same thing. The U.S. House of Representatives passed such a bill in December. It is likely only a matter of time before the measure takes effect here.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2011 A7

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