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Federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is shown in a frame from a new Liberal television that hit the air on Sunday Sept. 6,2009. Ignatieff is taking the high-road - or at least a peaceful wooded path - in the first set of television ads produced since he was named Liberal leader.

The federal Liberals have unveiled a new ad campaign that suggests the party will deploy significantly different strategies in Quebec than in the rest of Canada in the run-up to a potential fall election.

While the English-language ad is set in the woods and portrays Michael Ignatieff as a "world leader" capable of helping Canada regain its place on the international stage, the French-language ads are more aggressive, taking direct aim at the policies of Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

Keep in mind this is like being in a restaurant where we are serving the first of several courses as part of a long meal. The main course has yet to be served. Luc Mérineau, producer of the French ads

In the French ads Mr. Ignatieff stands against a dark background and accuses Mr. Harper's government of being "completely disconnected" from reality and "irresponsible" in its management of the economy.

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In another French-language ad, Mr. Ignatieff argues that Canada has become "the worst country among the G8 countries in the fight against climate change," under Mr. Harper's stewardship. He goes on to accuse the Harper government of failing to address the situation.

Luc Mérineau, who produced the four French language television ads as well as one Internet-only commercial said the strategy in Quebec was to be more straightforward, focusing on Quebeckers' concerns with the Conservative record on issues such as climate change and the deficit.

"Quebeckers are less politically correct than in the rest of the country," Mr. Mérineau said. "They also need to be reminded of things and that's why focusing on the Conservative record is so important."

The French language ads are clearly designed to appeal to federalist voters who voted for the Conservatives in the last two elections. There was no mention of the Bloc Québécois or any specific attempt at persuading nationalists.

"Keep in mind this is like being in a restaurant where we are serving the first of several courses as part of a long meal. The main course has yet to be served," said Mr. Mérineau, explaining that Mr. Ignatieff will eventually outline his vision of Canada to Quebeckers.

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The ads in both languages avoid the type of personal attacks the Conservatives used last spring to frame Mr. Ignatieff as an elitist who preferred the French spoken in France and who was once quite at ease referring to himself as an American.

Instead of responding with similar tactics, the first of three English language television ads places a soft-spoken Mr. Ignatieff in a forest-like setting, where he urges Canadians to "think big" and take pride in their ability "to take on the world and win."

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By going on the offensive and using pre-election ads, the Liberals hope to prevent the Conservatives from defining Mr. Ignatieff as they did former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, portrayed in Tory ads as bumbling and indecisive.

"These are ads that focus on hope, that focus on the issues, that focus on the record, not on personal petty attacks the way the Conservatives have. That tone and that message are very deliberate and that contrast is something we think will resonate very strongly with Canadians," said Rocco Rossi, the party's national director. "We think Canadians have had their fill of personal attack ads."

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The latest public opinion polls show the Liberals and Conservatives are in a dead heat.

Liberal officials refused to divulge the cost of the ads saying only that it was a "significant" amount.

But the ad buy suggests the Liberals are in much better financial shape than they were before Mr. Ignatieff took the helm of the party.

In 2008 the Liberals raised $1.8-million in the first two quarters and $6-million for the entire year, according to Mr. Rossi. By contrast, in the first six months of 2009 the party has already raised $6-million and has increased its membership under Mr. Ignatieff's leadership from 40,000 to 100,000 members, Mr. Rossi added.

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Conservative strategists scoffed at the Liberal strategy saying Mr. Ignatieff was simply playing to his core constituency of "rich, urban and internationalist" voters. The ads reinforce Mr. Ignatieff's elitist status with voters, the Tories argued.

"Quite frankly, he doesn't need additional 'snob' votes as there are none left on the table. He's got a lock on this corner of the political marketplace," Conservative Party strategist Patrick Muttart told CTV news Sunday. "There's nothing in the spot that would move the votes that need to be moved in a general election campaign. He's simply reminding voters that he left Canada for 34 years and had no interest in returning until the job of Prime Minister was made available to him."

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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