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Liberals drop the dead puffin

When Liberal leader Stéphane Dion appeared at the University of Victoria on September 12, the local candidate who introduced him had a stuffed puffin on hand, but the bird never made it onto the stage.

The plan was for Saanich-Gulf Islands candidate Briony Penn, a longtime environmentalist, columnist and former television reporter, to say that she herself had been pooped on by puffin while doing research on the B.C. coast.

Penn was to make a link to how climate change threatens puffins, and mention how some cultures consider getting glooped with guano lucky. She even had a stuffed puffin, on loan from the Royal B.C. Museum, ready as a prop.

But during the event, attended by at least three times as many people as the auditorium could hold, plus dozens of local and national reporters, the bird never appeared.

One source said Dion thought the idea was funny and wanted Penn to produce the puffin, but his media handlers nixed it.

Penn said the timing just wasn't right and she'll have another opportunity before the October 14 election. “No one killed it,” she said. “We're saving it . . . You know what I'm learning? You don't come up with everything at the start.”

Also of note at the event:

* Dion ripped into Conservative leader Stephen Harper's promise to cut the tax on diesel fuel by two cents a litre. “It will cost $600 million to do that. It's a lot of money,” he said. The cut will be erased by price hikes, he said. “Yesterday the cost of diesel went up two cents. It's nothing. It's a gimmick.” The Liberals would spend that money helping people retrofit their homes to make them more energy efficient, he said.

* Responding to a question from the Dogwood Initiative's Eric Swanson, Dion promised to recognize and maintain the ban on oil tanker traffic on the B.C. coast. Harper and incumbent Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Gary Lunn have denied the ban ever existed. Retired Liberal cabinet minister David Anderson, who helped launch the moratorium forty years ago and who was at the Friday event, insists it does. So does Penn. “David's view and her view is that this moratorium exists,” said Dion. “I think they're right. The moratorium will be respected.”

* Incumbent Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Keith Martin was among the Liberal candidates on stage. When it was his turn to speak, he said, “We're going to win the battle for our planet.” Wait a second. Martin has made headlines in recent months as an opponent of the Capital Regional District's plans to stop dumping raw sewage in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which doesn't exactly make him an ally of the environmental movement. Has his position changed? Asked on the way out of the auditorium, he said, “My position hasn't changed. I'm looking for a cost benefit analysis on it.”

* In a scrum with Dion later, reporters noted Martin's position (which Anderson shares), and asked for Dion's thoughts. The Liberal party is a “big tent”, he said. He will listen to Martin and other opponents of sewage treatment, he said, but he's convinced Canada should not be dumping raw sewage into rivers, lakes or oceans. He supports treatment.

* Penn read a message from wildlife artist Robert Bateman: “Years ago when Paul Martin was the Canadian minister of finance, I wrote an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail on the occasion of his budget. I strongly suggested we needed to stop subsidizing things that were bad for the environment and to financially support activities that helped environmental conditions. At last there is a political leader with the courage to implement these policies. Mr. Dion knows it will be a battle to make this change, but we all know that it's worth doing.”

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