• Liberal chief seeks to end political curse at Blue Jays game
  • Conservatives make peace with iconic coffee-and-donut chain

Tom Mulcair wasn’t the first choice for Tom Powell, or the second. The supporter of Canada’s left-leaning New Democratic Party wanted other lawmakers to take the helm four years ago, after the death of the previous leader.

Mulcair won anyhow, and now the NDP is ahead in the polls a month into the campaign for the Oct. 19 election.

“It was a bit of a struggle. I watched Tom, gave him some advice,” Powell, 71, recalled. The advice? Avoid insulting the energy sector, a key economic driver in western Canada, where the party was slumping. “He didn’t take it.”

Since then, Mulcair has mostly won over Powell and other long-time activists who filed into a Saskatoon community center this week to hear Mulcair speak. The NDP leader headed to his party’s birthplace to underscore his pledge of balanced budgets, a calling card of the New Democrats’ first leader, Tommy Douglas.

“The NDP does have that proud track record of good, competent public administration, and I have to admit that might not be the sexiest campaign slogan you’ve ever heard,” Mulcair said.

Nonetheless, Powell is on board now, with one objection: It’s all a bit dull for him. “He’s working hard at being very prime ministerial right now,” Powell said. “Sometimes, I’d like to see a little more rah rah rah.”

Which Deficit King?

Paul Martin, the centrist Liberal Party’s last prime minister and Canada’s deficit slayer extraordinaire in the 1990s, chimed in on the election campaign last week by labeling Prime Minister Stephen Harper the “the king of deficits,” part of his party’s efforts to discredit the incumbent Conservative leader’s economic record.

Martin may have more in common with Harper than he lets on.

True, Harper has run up C$121 billion ($91 billion) worth of deficits since his first budget in 2006, the third highest total for a prime minister behind Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau. Canada ran cumulative surpluses of C$6 billion between 1993 and 2006 in the previous Liberal administration under which Martin served as both finance minister and prime minister.

But as a share of GDP, a more precise measure, Harper comes a close second to Martin as far as fiscal prudence goes. The incumbent Conservative’s deficits averaged 0.9 percent between 2006 and 2014. That’s the lowest since the early 1950s after Martin’s tenure, which saw Canada run an average deficit of 0.2 percent of GDP.

If there is a king of deficits, it may be Mulroney. He ran up cumulative deficits of C$293 billion between 1984 and 1993, a record, and averaged budget shortfalls of 5.2 percent of GDP.

Second worst was Trudeau, father of current Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. He ran up C$188 billion in total deficits, averaging 3.7 percent of GDP between 1968 and 1984.

Ottawa’s Boo Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays are Canada’s hottest sports franchise, leading the American League East after losing only six games in August and on pace to win their first playoff spot in two decades. The heavy-hitting Jays have packed the stands and dominated television airwaves, which makes them a natural target during an election campaign. But are political leaders cursed?

Mulcair was the first to take in a baseball game this campaign -- on Aug. 14, when Toronto lost to the rival New York Yankees. Harper followed suit on Aug. 31, and the Jays lost again, to the Cleveland Indians.

All that’s left in Canada’s three-way election race is a visit from Trudeau -- which is set for Friday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles. Will he too curse the team?

“I’m really focused on the fact that I get to bring my kids to their first Major League Baseball game today,” the Liberal leader told reporters in Toronto Friday morning, adding that his late father used to take him to Montreal Expos games. “Baseball runs deep in my family and I’m looking forward to a great game tonight.”

Banished No More

Tim Hortons remains an obligatory Canadian election campaign stop for politicians of all stripes, even after the coffee-and-donut shops were wrapped up with Burger King.

The political coffee runs are akin to the place of U.S. campaign stops in Iowa and Vermont, pressing leaders to veer off a regular diet of hotel ballroom speeches and show a touch of humanity with voters at street level.

Canadian literary icon Pierre Berton once wrote, speaking for the majority: “The story of Tim Hortons is the essential Canadian story. It is a story of success and tragedy, of big dreams and small towns, of old-fashioned values and tough-fisted business, of hard work and of hockey.”

The pattern was poised to end in this election. Tims found itself in double-double hot water this year when it bowed to a complaint and canceled a pro-pipeline advertisement running on its in-store screens. That, in turn, triggered another backlash -- with two Conservative cabinet ministers calling for a boycott of the chain.

The prime minister didn’t agree. He and his Liberal rival, Trudeau, visited the chain this week, with Harper joking: “Just don’t let me handle the cash.”

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