The Election: Day 23

The rhetoric about national unity continues to heat up. Paul Martin has decined Gilles Duceppe's challenge to debate him in Quebec. Duceppe was responding to Martin's remarks during last week's debates that he would debate Duceppe on any street corner anywhere in Quebec. His bluff called, Martin backed down. Into the breach stepped Stephen Harper who said he would debate Duceppe on behalf of the federalist cause even if Martin wouldn't. Duceppe said there was no point without Martin there.

Meanwhile, Martin claimed that Conservative Leader Stephen Harper went too far in suggesting the Liberals want a separatist government in Quebec. Martin said he's been fighting for national unity all his life.

Harper has been on the attack all week on the issue of Quebec separatism in an effort to grab the role of federalist champion from Martin and the Liberals. He suggested on Tuesday that Martin was hoping for a Parti Québécois victory in Quebec so he could play the hero defending national unity. Martin demanded an apology.

Harper laughed off Martin's demand, saying that Martin has made worse remarks about the Conservatives getting into bed with the separatists.

"This accusation I've made against Mr. Martin arises because it is Mr. Martin who's talked continually about a referendum and about having a PQ government in Quebec," said Harper.

Jack Layton accused both leaders of playing fire with national unity. Layton himself campaigned in the north seeking to sway voters in seats where the NDP had come close to winning previously. Layton said he will insist the winner of the election act on the $5.1-billion Kelowna agreements with native and Metis people.

A new poll showed the Bloc Quebecois up 5 points post-debate. The poll indicated that the Bloc had the support of 60% with the Liberals dropping further to 20%, down from 30% just before the election. It looks like Martin's attempt to polarize this election on the issue of national unity is backfiring on the Liberals.

It will be interesting to see if the Conservatives can make some headway in Ontario over the next several weeks.

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