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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to reporters after the collapse of his minority government in the foyer of the House of Commons on March 25, 2011. (Fred Chartrand/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to reporters after the collapse of his minority government in the foyer of the House of Commons on March 25, 2011. (Fred Chartrand/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Conservative campaign

Harper focuses on Quebec Add to ...

On the hunt for a majority in the May 2 election, Stephen Harper officially kicked off his 2011 campaign tour to shore up his seat count in Quebec.

Mr. Harper's held his first rally in the Quebec City riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent, currently held by a Tory MP who took significant heat for the Conservatives' decision to forgo requests to fund a hockey arena in the area.

On the campaign trail

Josée Verner was specifically targeted by the rival Bloc Quebecois for her role as a Conservative Party spokeswoman during the recent arena funding controversy.

The Tories, whose government was defeated by opposition parties Friday, will need to retain all 11 seats in Quebec if they can hope to eke out a majority government this election. About seven of these seats are in the Quebec City area.

While the Tories began the 2008 election campaign with big hopes for Quebec, they appear to have more limited goals here this time. The Conservatives consider the route to a majority government this time to be more likely found in the Greater Toronto Area.

But they will face a tough fight in Quebec from the Bloc Quebecois, which only has to campaign in one province.

They hope to counter Bloc attacks by sending Christian Paradis, among their highest profile Quebec MPs, on tour across the province

Flanked by signs reminding Quebeckers the Tories have formed government after the last two elections - "Notre region au pouvoir" - Mr. Harper urged voters to turn their backs on the Bloc during the Saturday rally.

"I start my speeches in French and I remind people of this because Canada as a great continental nation was first conceived in French right here in Quebec, right here in Quebec City."

The prime minister proceeded to read off a list of projects that Ottawa has funded in Quebec, in an effort to demonstrate how the Tories have enriched the province.

The Conservatives had come under intense pressure earlier this year to pony up cash for a new Quebec City arena which local backers see as the first step to bringing back an NHL hockey franchise to the region.

They rejected the request, which was opposed by their fiscally conservative base in western Canada and Ontario.

The Tories defended the move, however, by saying this represented a new policy that would be applied equally across Canada, including in Saskatchewan where local politicians had been pushing for federal help for a new Roughriders complex.

Just before greeting supporters in Louis St. Laurent, Mr. Harper stopped by the nearby riding of Beauport-Limoilou where Tory incumbent Sylvie Boucher won by a margin of more than 4 percentage points in 2008.

There he took a group photo with other local Conservative candidates in the region, including well east of Quebec City, including incubments such as Steven Blaney and Maxime Bernier from the Beauce.

The Tories have been taking grief for the arena decision but that is not the only trouble spot for them in Quebec.

They're also facing accusations that they were preparing to abandon the Quebec City area's historic shipbuilding industry before their government fell.

In mid-February, the Tory government turned up the heat on a struggling Quebec City shipyard trying to win a piece of a $33-billion federal vessel-construction spree, stipulating this week that all competitors must be financially solvent by the time they bid for the job.

Quebec's 186-year-old Davie Yards is currently insolvent and has been under court protection from creditors for nearly a year.

A just-released CROP-La Presse poll suggests however that it's the Liberals that are in the tightest spot in Quebec.

It puts provincial support for the Liberals at 11 per cent; with 23 per cent support for the Tories and 38 per cent for the Bloc. The NDP stands at 20 per cent in this poll.

Earlier Saturday, Mr. Harper said that his campaign will turn on two major issues: the economy and whether his opponents will form a coalition if his party yet again fails to win a majority.

"On May 2, we will choose between stable national government and a reckless coalition; between a low-tax plan for jobs and growth, and a high-tax agenda that will stall our recovery, kill jobs and set families back," he said only minutes after the Governor General dissolved Parliament and accepted the Prime Minister's request for a new election following the historic no-confidence vote passed Friday by the Commons.

"Let me be perfectly clear. Unless Canadians elect a stable, national majority government, Michael Ignatieff will form a coalition with the NDP and Bloc Québécois."

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