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PM says Liberals back on government payroll "better be working" next week

[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:45 p.m. December 21, 2005]

PM Paul Martin says Liberal campaign staff that return to their government jobs next week "better be working.". 

OTTAWA  — It might be Christmas, sir, but the PM says those Liberals currently working on the campaign who choose to return to their government-paying jobs next week "better be working."

The Liberals are facing a minor controversy regarding a campaign cost-cutting plan they have to allow campaign staff currently on unpaid leave return to their government jobs during Christmas week when the campaign slows down. 

The other parties are not engaging in a similar cost-cutting move. 

Prime Minister Paul Martin was asked about whether the practice was ethical while campaigning in Nova Scotia Thursday. 

"The fact is that we're the government and we have never stopped being the government and that is our system," Martin said. 

Martin said it is okay for Liberals to receive their government salaries as long as they are not doing campaign work for that week. 

"I have made it very clear, and there is no equivocation about this, when people are engaged in the political campaign they will be paid by the Liberal party. There's no ifs, buts or mays."

The week the Liberals plan to have some staff take off consists of two statutory holidays for Christmas and Boxing and three other days. Martin and the other party leaders are expected to only do light campaigning during that time. 

A reporter pressed Martin on whether it was necessary to have the Liberals working in their government jobs that week, which is usually fairly slow. 

"They're not really going to be working during the Christmas holidays, surely?" a reporter asked.

"They better be," Martin said in response. "I'm going to tell you that's there's a lot of stuff that has to be done. And they better be working because I'm going to be working and I certainly expect to see them there."

However, the Liberal war room says that not all campaign staff that choose to end their leave of absence to return to government will be at their desks. 

Some of those who can return to the government could opt to use their vacation credits instead. 

"Some may use earned vacation credits," Ken Polk a spokesperson for the Liberal campaign told PoliticsWatch. "Others may work. The bottom line is that if they chose either of those options they cannot be on the campaign."

The Liberals say they are not violating election-financing laws by using this practice. 

PoliticsWatch has also obtained a letter Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro fired off  to ministerial staff on November 29 listing guidelines they should follow in the campaign. 

In the letter Shapiro stresses that ministerial staff that are still on the government payroll or are on vacation leave cannot be actively campaigning. 

"All individuals who work on behalf of a minister or a minister of state, and who become actively involved on a full-time basis in a federal election campaign are required to: take leave of absence without pay or resign their position, where these individuals are working in a minister's office (vacation leave or any other leave with pay is not permitted to be taken for election campaign purposes.." Shapiro wrote. 

However, those who stay in their government positions during the campaign can campaign "on a part-time basis," according to Shapiro's letter, "provided their involvement is on their own time (eg weekends, evenings), and not during regular office hours."

Prime Minister Harper the buzz at Chretien's Christmas party

A group of senior Liberals gathered in an Ottawa pub Monday evening for former prime minister Jean Chretien's office Christmas party. 

Chretien, his former chief of staff Jean Pelletier, Eddie Goldenberg, Sheila Copps and Senator Jim Munson were among the senior Grits in attendance. 

What was the big topic of discussion at the party? 

A Canadian Press story reported that it was "hand-wringing over the current state of the Liberals, who are struggling to hang onto a minority in the Jan. 23 election."

But sources tell PoliticsWatch that talk also included several veteran Liberals at the party predicting Stephen Harper will be prime minister on January 24. 

One senior Liberal and campaign veteran predicted Harper would become PM with a minority based on his reading of the polls and past campaign experience. 

And a couple of other Grits even thought Harper had a chance to win with as many as three seats in Quebec, including Lawrence Cannon in Pontiac and Josee Verner in Louis-Hebert. 

Separatists' Greetings

Campaigning Santas: One of three "cybercards" the Bloc Quebecois has available on their Web site. 

Jingle bell, Jingle bell, Jingle bell Bloc.

Unlike the other party leaders, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe did not send a Christmas card this year. 

But the Bloc is giving people a chance to send Separatist Greetings to their friends and family over the holidays. 

The Bloc Quebecois's Web site is letting visitors send a "cybercard" out this Christmas.

There are three different cards: 

One featuring a confused Duceppe outside a small home looking up at the other three party leaders dressed in Santa Claus suits and stuck in a chimney. 

Another has Santa and an elf looking at boxes and boxes of Liberal promises that were not delivered in 2004. 

A third card doesn't have a holiday theme, but is a card featuring Martin and Duceppe during the leaders' debate with a tape playing in Martin's back titled "Jean Chretien's promises."

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