OTTAWA — The Dan Gagnier drag chute billowed out behind the Liberal campaign Thursday, giving Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair a badly needed chance to catch up to the apparent front-runner, Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau, however, gave as good as he got — at least as far as the Conservative leader was concerned — by amping up the outrage over Rob and Doug Ford's recent appearance on the Tory trail.
Gagnier, the party's campaign co-chairman, abruptly quit his volunteer post Wednesday after The Canadian Press disclosed details of an email in which he provides lobbying advice to an oil pipeline company.
That gave Harper and Mulcair the perfect opportunity to take a swing at a long-standing Achilles heel for the Liberals: the sponsorship scandal.
"They can try to put a fresh face on it, but behind the scenes it's still the same old gang pulling the same old tricks," said the NDP's Mulcair, who — campaigning in Montreal, where he needs a reversal of fortune — could barely contain his glee.
"You can't trust the Liberals. It's the same old Liberal party."
Trudeau, Mulcair noted, has been campaigning alongside former Liberal stalwarts Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, who presided over the party during the sponsorship scandal, in which firms won contracts based on donations to the Liberals with little work being done. Some of the cash was kicked back to Liberal operatives.
Harper, who was in Opposition at the height of the controversy, also seized on the chance to break out some of his greatest hits.
"I think we should all understand that the culture of the Liberal party that gave us the sponsorship scandal has not changed and it will not change."
Gagnier stepped down after The Canadian Press revealed he emailed officials at TransCanada Corp., the company behind the Energy East pipeline, with advice on how and when to lobby a new government — including a Liberal minority.
For his part, Trudeau said Gagnier's departure demonstrates that the Liberals "take ethical standards and responsibilities extremely seriously."
The controversy has the potential to dramatically upend the narrative that had been taking shape during the campaign's final week — especially in Quebec, where Energy East is a divisive issue.
All of which, of course, is why Trudeau jumped on the chance to drop the most powerful four-letter F-bomb in all of Canadian politics: Ford.
Harper should be "embarrassed that he's having to count on the support of Rob Ford for his re-election," Trudeau said.
Former Toronto mayor and current city Coun. Rob Ford, who has admitted to smoking crack cocaine, appeared at a Harper event earlier this week with his brother Doug, who has admitted smoking marijuana in high school.
"There's a lot of people talking in the news these days about the hypocrisy of the Fords and their drug problems and Mr. Harper and his positions on that," Trudeau said.
"But that's not really the issue, as serious as it is, that strikes me most. What bothers me most is the misogyny. The Ford brothers should have no place on a national campaign stage, much less hosting a prime minister at an event this weekend.
"That's just completely irresponsible of the prime minister."
A published excerpt of a new book by the ex-mayor's former chief of staff Mark Towhey claims Rob Ford threatened his wife.
With just three full days of campaigning left, a barrage of last-minute advertising is also underway, as was apparent during the broadcast of Wednesday's postseason game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers.
One marketing company has calculated that the majority of attack ads that have run on Canadian television during the campaign have been Conservative spots targeting Trudeau.
IPG Mediabrands says more than 9,800 political party ads ran on TV between Aug. 4 and Sept. 27, and one third of them were attack ads. Of those, a 65 per cent were Conservative ads aimed at Trudeau, while 15 per cent were Liberal ads attacking Harper and 11 per cent were NDP spots targeting Harper.
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