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As Tories face historic defeat, campaign itineraries take shape Add to ...

Stephen Harper will have the campaign plane ready on the tarmac Saturday in anticipation of an election expected to start shortly after his minority government falls Friday.

Preparations for the 2011 election campaign took on a new urgency Thursday ahead of this historic defeat, with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff making plans for a pep rally in Ottawa on the first day of the race before busing to Montreal where he is trying to make gains.

NDP chief Jack Layton is also readying for an expected Saturday election start, a campaign he will also begin with a gathering of party faithful in the nation's capital - before jetting to Edmonton to consolidate support in a province that's traditionally a Tory stronghold.

The Conservatives are still finalizing their campaign itinerary but the best bet appears to be that Mr. Harper will begin in Ottawa before heading to Quebec on Day 2 of the race.

On Friday, the Liberals will push ahead with a confidence motion that will see all three opposition parties unite to declare the Conservatives in contempt of Parliament, setting the stage for the fourth federal election in seven years.

Early campaign travel itineraries often reveal the top priorities for parties in an election battle. All players usually try to hit all regions and corners of the country within the first two weeks to demonstrate they're a national political force.

Mr. Layton's heading to Alberta at the outset might seem counterintuitive given Conservative strength in the western province. But the NDP campaign said they have hopes of accomplishing more there than merely defending their lone Alberta seat.

The early Liberal drive to Montreal reflects the party's hopes to oust NDP deputy leader Tom Mulcair from his Outremont seat and dislodge the Bloc Québécois from other area ridings.

A Tory source said Mr. Harper will keep a busy travel schedule and pay frequent visits to the so-called 416- and 905- area-code regions of Greater Toronto. It's crucial that the Conservative Leader win more ridings here if he hopes to secure the majority government he's been seeking since 2004.

The choice of decor for campaign buses is already revealing different strategies among parties.

The Liberal bus will feature the party's logo but not an image of Mr. Ignatieff himself. The NDP campaign bus, by comparison, places a greater emphasis on leader Jack Layton with a great big head-and-shoulders photo plastered across both sides.

The Liberals shrug off the matter, saying their pitch to voters is not based on Mr. Ignatieff alone. "Unlike the Harper Conservatives, we're running on the Liberal team, not a one-man show," said Leslie Church, director of communications for Mr. Ignatieff.

The Conservatives have balked at acknowledging a campaign is imminent, even after the NDP joined the Liberals and the Bloc in vowing to defeat the Tory budget Tuesday.

But, by Thursday, activity was heating up in the Conservatives' campaign war room as an election became all but inevitable.

Tory national campaign chair Guy Giorno spent time at the party's election headquarters on Ottawa's Lancaster Road Thursday, as did growing numbers of Conservative political staffers, who are preparing to take leave of their jobs in order to join the fight.

The Commons is expected to vote on the confidence motion around 1:30 p.m. EDT and its passage will spell the defeat of the Conservative government, which last won office in October, 2008.

It's not clear how long Mr. Harper will take before going to Rideau Hall to ask Governor-General David Johnston to dissolve Parliament and drop the writ - but he is expected to do so Saturday.

The New Democrats say they have 40 days of campaigning already planned.

Mr. Layton has been undergoing cancer treatments and recently had hip surgery that has left him walking with a cane.

He says he is still ready to campaign but his officials are preparing reporters for a lighter travel schedule than past election races.

NDP officials say Canadians already know Mr. Layton and there is no need to hit eight ridings in a day so this campaign will be more relaxed than in previous years.

Mr. Layton's sprint for Edmonton on Day 1 of the campaign will take him to a city where NDP MP Linda Duncan won a seat for the party in the 2008 election. It's the only riding in Alberta not held by Conservatives.

"We are running a growth campaign," said Kathleen Monk, the party's campaign director. "We are going to be putting out the narrative that Ottawa is broken and, if you want to fix it, the progressive vote has to rally behind Jack Layton."

This, of course, is a counter message to the dominant theme of the Liberal campaign, which aims to persuade Canadians who oppose Mr. Harper that the only way to defeat him is to throw support behind Mr. Ignatieff.

With a report from Daniel Leblanc in Ottawa

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