Mudslinging mars campaign

OTTAWA — It’s an old election standby: if your political ideas don’t take root, try adding dirt.

OTTAWA — It’s an old election standby: if your political ideas don’t take root, try adding dirt.

Mud is showering the campaign trail with just 13 days to go until a vote that pollsters suggest may not definitively reward any of the federal parties.

Malicious late-night prank calls, illegal lawn-sign tampering, even a gay smear campaign — the allegations, conspiracy theories and pious denials were flying fast and thick Tuesday.

Francois Boivin, a former Liberal MP running for the New Democrats in Gatineau, Que., was spitting mad after Le Devoir newspaper suggested she’d been turfed from her old party because she helped her spouse get a Parliament Hill job.

Boivin insists the woman wasn’t her partner, just her roommate.

Boivin made a point of thanking her Conservative and Green party rivals — but not the Liberals or Bloc Quebecois — for running a clean campaign in Gatineau, across the river from Ottawa.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, asked about the matter in Winnipeg, expressed surprise.

“We would never want to question or engage in personal attacks on people’s personal lives,” he said.

Steve MacKinnon, the Liberal candidate facing Boivin and a former Liberal party president, also pleaded innocence.

“My campaign has nothing to do with the story and I can only express my own personal admiration, as I think my leader has done, for Ms. Boivin,” MacKinnon said.

NDP Leader Jack Layton, speaking with reporters in Toronto, sniffed that the Boivin ruckus shows what’s wrong with federal politics.

“It’s an example of how things don’t work in Ottawa — personal attacks. When someone says, ‘This is the truth,’ I accept it.”

There appeared to be multiple versions of the truth Tuesday.

In Brampton, Ont., a Liberal campaign volunteer has been charged with stealing signs. But Liberal incumbent Andrew Kania said the volunteer, Rachpal Singh Grewal, believes volunteers of Conservative candidate Kyle Seeback planted signs in his truck after an argument.

Earlier in the campaign, an Ottawa-area Liberal candidate had $2,000 worth of lawn signs vandalized by someone who spray-painted bull’s-eyes over his head.

And Liberal candidates in Ontario and Manitoba say residents have been receiving harassing calls at late hours by people claiming to work for the party.

Ray Simard, a former Liberal MP who’s the candidate in St. Boniface, Man., said he began hearing about the calls Monday as he was door-knocking in his riding.

“They’re going into our strong areas, I would imagine, identifying Liberals and being rude with them, turning them off obviously,” Simard said.

The Liberal campaign pounced on the calls, citing “Republican-style harassing phone calls” into 10 ridings by unnamed “political opponents.”

The calls originate in North Dakota, according to the Liberals, who have complained to Elections Canada.

It was a day of dirty tricks — and tricky questions.

Ignatieff carefully stickhandled a question from the CBC about his plans if Harper fails to win a majority.

Harper has spent three weeks telling voters they must either give the Conservatives a majority or a Liberal-led coalition will defeat him in Parliament and take over.

Ignatieff insisted once again that he would not form any coalition, but said he would be willing to try to form government — according to parliamentary rules and tradition — if Harper returned with a minority and then failed to win the confidence of Parliament.

“If the Governor General wants to call on other parties, or myself, for example, to try and form a government, then we try to form a government,” Ignatieff said.

“That’s exactly how the rules work and what I’m trying to say to Canadians is, I understand the rules, I respect the rules, I will follow them to the letter and I’m not going to form a coalition.

“What I’m prepared to do is talk to Mr. Layton or Mr. Duceppe or even Mr. Harper and say, ’We have an issue, and here’s the plan that I want to put before Parliament, this is the budget I would bring in,’ and then we take it from there.”

The Conservatives claim Ignatieff’s response reveals he has “finally admitted he is open to trying to become prime minister with the support of the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois.”

Harper refused to answer Tuesday when asked whether he would step down if he failed to win a majority.

“You know I’m not going to take the bite on that one,” he responded during a campaign stop in Thunder Bay, Ont. “We’re in the election to win.”

— With files from Jennifer Ditchburn.

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