Michael Ignatieff's Liberals believe female voters can help them defeat Stephen Harper and will fight the next election on a platform designed to show that only Liberals understand the anxiety Canadian families are feeling about the economy.
They think Mr. Harper's economic message that Canada is better off than other countries is not resonating. Rather, Liberal research shows the Harper macroeconomic message is making Canadians "anxious" - they feel they have fallen behind with their retirement savings, are worried about how they will take care of their elderly parents, and are concerned about education and job prospects for their children.
Most affected by these issues are women between the ages of 30 and 60, a senior Ignatieff official said.
On Parliament Hill on Wednesday morning, surrounded by his candidates from the Ottawa area, the Liberal Leader launched his so-called 20/11 Tour - an 11-day, cross-country trip to 20 ridings held by other parties.
He released a 12-page document, "Five Years of Harper - 2006-2011 - is Canada Better Off?"
The Grits hope this question will frame the election campaign. "I think Canadians are entitled to ask, are you better off than you were five years ago," Mr. Ignatieff said. "Is the economy stronger and is Canada more respected in the world? And I think the answers to all of those questions is no."
At his news conference, Mr. Ignatieff emphasized the differences between Harper government priorities and those of his Liberals, accusing the Conservatives of being all about spending billions of dollars on new stealth fighter jets and new prison cells.
As well, he criticized the Tory corporate tax cuts, which he said make no sense when the deficit is at $56-billion.
The Liberals want to cancel the tax cuts and use that money to help families: Last year, they unveiled a policy to adopt a $1-billion Family Care Plan that would make it easier for Canadians to care for sick relatives.
"Our platform, whenever an election comes, [is not]going to be big government programs, the 1970s all over again, it's going to be 'we-understand-what-you're-going-through,' " the senior Ignatieff official said.
Liberal research is showing Canadians are bothered by the Prime Minister's assertions that Canada is doing much better economically than other countries.
"There is this real kind of anxiety - 'I don't want to hear one more time,' they say, 'that we've done better than other G7 countries, because my life is worse,' " said the official. "The more Harper talks about macroeconomic numbers, the more it bothers them."
The Liberal strategy, he said, contains two elements: that the Harper Conservatives have no economic plan for the country's future and the Liberals do, and the Tories do not understand what families are going through.
"We've looked at this pretty closely," the official said. "Canadians might feel that our country could have done worse - the macroeconomics - but they all feel that their family is actually further behind than it was five years ago."
Mr. Ignatieff, meanwhile, told reporters he is not pushing for an election, but warned that casting a ballot for the NDP or the Bloc as a "protest vote" would ensure four more years of Tory rule.
He would not, however, commit to voting against the coming Conservative budget sight unseen. "We will reserve our ultimate decision on the budget until we see it," he said. And he proceeded to take a shot at his NDP rival, Jack Layton, who is conducting a tour of his own. "I have always said, unlike Mr. Layton, I like to read a document before I vote on it."
Reacting to the Ignatieff tour, the Harper Conservatives sent around a memo to party faithful accusing the Liberals of wanting to force an election.
"In the clearest indication yet that he has his sights set on forcing a needless election that will distract from creating jobs and sustaining our fragile economic recovery, Michael Ignatieff - fully rested after a three-week vacation - started his New Year by launching a national political tour …," the Tory memo said. "We, again, restate our commitment to not provoke an election that is unnecessary at this time."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper reaffirmed on Wednesday that he will campaign to eliminate direct subsidies to political parties in the next election, an issue that divided Canadians in the fall of 2008.
It's a confirmation of what the Prime Minister's chief spokesman said in the spring of 2010: that the Conservatives are not abandoning their quest to eliminate the direct subsidies that are allocated based on how many votes a party gets.
Last year, this public financing cost taxpayers $27-million. Mr. Harper backed down on the idea in the fall of 2008 after the initiative united opposition parties into forming a coalition that threatened to oust the Tories.
With a report from Steven Chase