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Tuesday 13 April 1999

Waiting for Harris to call: Signs of a spring election are evident throughout the region

Jim Poling
The Spectator

Liberal candidates watch a Liberal-produced anti-Harris television ad. From left are Frank D'Amico, front, Dominic Agostino, Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, Chris Phillips and Vicky Wylson-Sher.

The Spectator..The campaign signs are on order, brochures printed and billboards being pasted. All Ontario needs now is an election call. The lack of formalities hasn't stopped campaign fever from running through Hamilton-Wentworth. Ontario's three major parties all have nominated candidates in each of the area's five ridings.

"I'm gambling on a spring call," said NDP candidate David Christopherson. "It's a risk and if (the premier) doesn't call it until fall, I have a problem."

Christopherson, a seasoned civic and provincial politician, faces one of the toughest fights of his career in Hamilton West and has been campaigning for eight weeks. His old riding of Hamilton Centre is being split between two others and he will square off against incumbent Conservative Lillian Ross and Liberal candidate Frank D'Amico, a Hamilton alderman.

The smart money is on a June 10 election. The Legislature resumes next week and it's expected the government will announce a budget in early May setting the stage for a 28-day campaign. A June 10 trip to the ballot box would be the fourth anniversary of the Mike Harris Conservatives.

Signs of a spring call are evident: The government continues to hand out tens of millions of dollars to municipalities, projects and hospitals. Tory MPPs call it "investments." Critics say it's pre-election spending. The government recently announced it was giving the region of Hamilton-Wentworth $25 million to help merge layers of local government.

Premier Mike Harris was scheduled to visit Hamilton this afternoon for a workfare media announcement at Lakeland Community Centre on the Beach strip. It would have been his second recent visit to Hamilton, but the event was cancelled because the premier's father died on the weekend and funeral preparations are being made.

Yesterday, Ontario Liberals unveiled the latest leg in their party's television and radio advertising campaign. The ads take on the Harris government's education policies.

Milton Chan, a 20-year-old computer science student at the University of Waterloo, is tracking the pre-election fever through his Internet polling site ( Chan, who also studies political science, receives e-mail submissions and, based on educated guesses, is making riding-by-riding predictions. "It started out as a hobby, but my political science professor took an interest and now he is supervising it," he said. "It's not purely scientific, but I think it will give people a snapshot of what is happening."

The New Democrats have started to release policy platforms, the Conservatives are hoping to woo voters with cash and the Liberals are aiming to sway people with the their latest round of television and advertising.

Yesterday, area Liberals held a press conference at the Sheraton Hamilton Hotel to counter an aggressive estimated $100-million Conservative advertising campaign. There they launched their latest "attack" ad which continues the theme of challenging Harris on education commitments. Liberals see health care, education and the environment as soft spots for the government and say they will do everything they can to expose the weakness...

"We made a mistake in 1995 by sitting back and we paid big time," said Dominic Agostino, Liberal for Hamilton East. "Every time Mike Harris makes a statement, we are going to have someone there challenging him."

Hamilton Mountain Conservative MPP Trevor Pettit says the "fact police" approach won't work. "I can see why they feel they need to do something. Everybody's getting geared up for a campaign," he said. "I guess they have to take the negative road, they don't seem to have a platform. At least the NDP have come out with a six-point platform."

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