POLITICS

Trudeau Dogged By Questions About Ex-Campaign Co-Chair

10/16/2015 11:30 EDT | Updated 10/16/2016 05:12 EDT

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Headwinds continued to bear down on Justin Trudeau's campaign Friday as the controversy surrounding a former member of his inner circle threatened to slow Liberal momentum.

The Liberal leader came under renewed pressure linked to revelations about Dan Gagnier, his campaign co-chairman. Gagnier resigned this week after a leaked email showed he was advising an oil pipeline company on how to lobby a new federal government.

The veteran political consultant in Quebec sent the tips to TransCanada Corp., the firm behind the Energy East Pipeline — a particularly contentious project in the province.

Trudeau's NDP rivals provided more gusts Friday with the release of an attack ad that seizes on the Gagnier revelations. The ad alleges they smack of wrongdoing in the same vein as the Liberals' Chretien-era sponsorship scandal.

The New Democrats, who filed a complaint with lobbying commissioner earlier this week, also called on the elections commissioner Friday to investigate whether the Liberals, Gagnier or TransCanada violated the Elections Act.

The Liberals struck back by distributing material that indicated NDP strategist Brad Lavigne had himself been listed on the Ontario Lobbyist Registry — arranging meetings for the Canadian Fuel Association and Just East Energy Ontario — until just three weeks ago.

Lavigne, who had worked for the lobbying firm Hill and Knowlton, insisted Friday that the information on the Ontario registry is a mistake and that he deregistered and quit the firm in May.

He also claimed that the fuel association reference is incorrect and that he only worked for the organization briefly on a short-term contract last year.

It remains to be seen how the Gagnier email could affect Trudeau's campaign. Recent polls have suggested his party was enjoying momentum going into the critical final week of the campaign prior to Monday's vote.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Trudeau tried to point to a silver lining in the affair, insisting Gagnier's swift departure shows the Liberals are serious about political ethics.

Trudeau said it's important that he have advisers and officials around him from a wide variety of careers and industries. He also noted that Gagnier's links to the oil sector had been public knowledge for months.

"We ensured from the very beginning of our campaign that we were compliant with all rules and regulations involving consultants and people of that sort, across a spectrum," he said at a campaign stop in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, where he was joined by former mayor Hazel McCallion.

"And when it came to light that one of our volunteers — a senior volunteer, obviously — had engaged in an inappropriate activity, we took responsibility for it.

"He acknowledged and assumed the consequences of his actions and stepped down from our campaign."

Trudeau didn't, however, acknowledge or explain the party's initial declaration of support for Gagnier in the hours after the story broke.

He also dodged two questions on whether he would further investigate Gagnier and other members of his team for inappropriate actions.

Trudeau has insisted Gagnier did not consult the party on its energy policy because he had clients in many different sectors.

The Liberals' main opponents see the Gagnier affair as an opening to score points in the final days of the campaign.

Smelling blood, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair have been attacking the Liberals with ferocity.

Both tried to frame the controversy as a reminder to voters that little has changed inside the party since the sponsorship scandal — a huge liability for the Liberals, particularly in Quebec.

The scandal saw millions funnelled to advertising agencies in Quebec for little or no work. Some of the money was kicked back to Liberal operatives.

"We know that Canadians deserve a government that tells the truth," Trudeau said.

The Liberal leader also struck back Friday with a blast of air of his own — courtesy of Hurricane Hazel.

Hazel McCallion, the former longtime Mississauga mayor, campaigned with Trudeau at a seniors' residence.

The straight-talking McCallion, a force in municipal politics who spent 36 years in office, also tried to help Trudeau shield his campaign.

"Well, you know, it doesn't look good... But there's no guarantee when you run as a politician, and I did for many years, that you're not going to have somebody on your campaign that's going to make a faux pas," McCallion, 94, said after introducing Trudeau.

"Unfortunately, you're dealing with humans and we all make mistakes sometimes, darn it... Why make such a fuss over it? He's gone."

McCallion starred in the Liberals' latest campaign ad, which seeks to remind seniors that the Liberals don't intend to do away with income splitting for pensioners.

Trudeau said the relentless Conservative effort to say otherwise is evidence of that party's willingness to go for a "low blow" because they can't win a fair fight.

The Liberal leader's campaign spent Friday making stops in the crucial Toronto-area battleground.

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