by Tim Harper

Our neighbours to the south have a name for a late-campaign jolt, the legendary “October surprise.”

Here in Canada, this year, we have been visited by the “October ghosts” in the campaign’s final hours.

For Justin Trudeau, a stunning lapse in judgment by his campaign co-chair can cause real damage to a surging campaign, particularly in Quebec. Thursday, Trudeau was fighting off the ghosts of Liberal scandals past.

For Stephen Harper, running back to the welcoming arms of the notorious Ford family is conjuring a ghost of the Conservative leader’s choosing. It is puzzling, doubly so because it comes just as a new book dishes more unsettling details of Rob Ford’s private life.

The departure of Dan Gagnier, who resigned after it was revealed he advised TransCanada Corp. on how best to lobby a new government for approval of the Energy East pipeline proposal – the government he was working to elect – gave Trudeau a double dose of trouble.

It allowed his rivals to raise again the sponsorship scandal that led to the demise of party’s fortunes in Quebec. And Energy East is highly unpopular in a province that has the power to determine the next government.

The beneficiary of this could be NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and, when handed a gift, he showed again he knows how to rhetorically unwrap it, telling supporters in a Conservative-held Quebec riding that Trudeau’s fresh face does not change the fact the party is the same old gang all trying to help themselves.

Trudeau has spoken of the need for “social licence” to build Energy East, said Mulcair, but “he’s already given the Liberal licence.”

Those who know Gagnier were mystified by his lapse, suggesting it was out of character.

Regardless, there is no doubt that rule one of consultants working on election campaigns is to park the consulting business for the life of that campaign.

For Gagnier and the Liberals, the lapse was compounded by the fact the party initially tried to defend him.

It seemed to rattle Trudeau, who appeared to have misplaced his recent supply of self-confidence. He maintained Gagnier’s swift departure shows how seriously the Liberals treat ethics breaches.

But had it not been a lifeline offered unwittingly by Harper, Trudeau’s day could have been much worse.

The reunion of Harper and the Fords gave the Liberal leader a chance to lash out at the “misogyny” of the Ford brothers. He said they have no place on a national campaign stage and that Harper should be “embarrassed” to be campaigning with them.

Harper will not utter the “Ford” name and he called Saturday’s rally a Conservative gathering, even after Rob Ford tweeted an invitation to join him and brother Doug as they “host” Harper at the rally.

There was no immediate word from Harper’s most senior cabinet minister Jason Kenney, who, at the depth of the Ford mayoralty, said he had brought “dishonour” to public office and called on him to resign and “stop dragging the city of Toronto through this terrible embarrassment.”

When you swim with the Fords, stuff washes up.

Doug Ford took to the airwaves Thursday, telling CTV that Trudeau was unworthy to sweep the floors at a major corporation. He took a shot at the Liberal leader for once admitting to smoking a joint at a dinner party. Yes, a Ford was taking Trudeau to task over drug use.

“He was a drama teacher for a year and now he’s going to be prime minister? Give me a break,” Doug Ford said.

Rob Ford said he would focus on policy, not take personal shots at Trudeau. In the infamous crack video reported by the Star, he is heard to refer to Trudeau as a “fag.”

In a new book, Mayor Rob Ford: Uncontrollable: How I Tried to Help the World’s Most Notorious Mayor, former Rob Ford chief of staff Mark Towhey recounts a chilling phone call he received from the mayor during a domestic dispute with his wife, Renata, in the middle of the night. “I swear to God I’m going to kill this woman, brother,” he tells Towhey, in an excerpt published in Maclean’s.

At another point, he appears to threaten to kill her when he demands something from her or “I’m putting three bullets in your head.”

Harper dodged questions about this Thursday. On the eve of the 2011 vote he received a famous bear hug from Rob Ford. The verdict on Ford has long since been delivered and Harper’s association with him is unlikely to move votes. It is designed to shore up dwindling Conservative support.

But one still must wonder why Harper would want to wade into the flotsam-filled Ford waters.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday tharper@thestar.ca Twitter:@nutgraf1

Copyright 2015 – Torstar Syndication Services

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