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PM's Haitian visit could pay byelection dividends

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OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have brought a message of solidarity to Haiti's worse slum, ardently promoted free trade, and positioned Canada as a "third way" alternative to the U.S. - all while taking some less than subtle swipes at Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.

But for all his efforts to broaden his foreign policy focus beyond Afghanistan and the United States, Harper's Latin American and Caribbean road trip could pay domestic dividends - particularly in Quebec where a series of byelections are looming.

"There's a lot of payoff if this goes well," says Andrew F. Cooper, a University of Waterloo political scientist and frequent writer and editor on Canadian foreign policy.

That's because Quebec, and particularly Montreal, have significant Haitian populations. By week's end, Harper must call a byelection in the downtown Outremont riding to fill a vacant Liberal seat, and will have to follow that with two more Quebec byelections, as well as ...

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