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Politics Harper on defence as Trudeau and Mulcair focus on Tory ridings

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau greets supporters while arriving at a campaign rally in Ottawa, Oct. 12, 2015.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Stephen Harper turned to props and sound effects to attack front-runner Justin Trudeau on Monday as he stumped to protect Conservative seats in the Kitchener-Waterloo region while the Liberals and NDP focused on Tory ridings they are gambling they can win as the final week of the 2015 election campaign counts down.

Mr. Harper's challenge before next Monday is to woo back disenchanted Conservative voters by sowing doubts about the risks of change.

Mr. Trudeau is going on the offensive, making pitches clearly aimed at NDP and Conservative supporters, while trying to stick to his script to avoid mistakes. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is seeking to win back support in Quebec and other NDP areas, hoping to show he is still in contention for power on Oct. 19.

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In an unusual campaign event, Mr. Harper watched as a party supporter piled Canadian currency into a mound in front of a sign that read: "The cost of Liberal tax hikes." The sound of a cash register rang out repeatedly to signal the growing tally of charges to Canadians.

The Tory Leader dismissed polls that indicate his party is significantly behind the Liberals, saying it is premature to predict the outcome.

"The polls are all over the map. What I believe is that Canadians have not made their choice yet – except for those obviously who have already voted," Mr. Harper told reporters.

He said he is confident voters will choose "stability over risk," adding later that "polls don't decide elections; voters do."

The Liberal lead increased nationally over the Conservatives to 6.8 percentage points in the latest Nanos tracking poll. It marked the 11th straight day the Liberals led the Conservatives, who were below 30 per cent for the third day in a row.

The three major party leaders are employing different campaign strategies in the final push.

Mr. Harper will spend another day or two in Ontario, including Toronto on Tuesday. Former Toronto councillor Doug Ford, brother of former mayor Rob Ford, told CTV Toronto that he plans to attend the Tuesday campaign stop in Etobicoke. Mr. Harper will then head to Quebec City, where the Conservatives hope to pick up seats, and likely Fredericton. The Liberals are expected to dominate Atlantic Canada, but New Brunswick seats are some of the Tories' best bets. Mr. Harper will also go to British Columbia, where tight races abound.

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Mr. Trudeau is targeting Conservative voters in Ontario, saying Mr. Harper has abandoned the "progressive" heritage of his Tory predecessors.

The Liberal Leader is hoping to win over disgruntled supporters of the Conservative Party of Canada after overtaking the NDP as the most popular alternative to Mr. Harper's team. The CPC was born in 2003 through a merger of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and the Canadian Alliance, of which Mr. Harper was the leader.

At a rally in the riding of Nepean in suburban Ottawa on Monday, Mr. Trudeau said "the Tories have a proud history," then criticized Mr. Harper's promise to remove the Canadian citizenship of convicted terrorists with dual nationalities.

"Most importantly, Progressive Conservatives – Tories – can be proud that their prime ministers didn't base everything on wedge politics. They didn't divide Canadians over differences of religion or citizenship. Progressive Conservative prime ministers believed that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian," he told hundreds of supporters.

The Liberals are focusing mostly on ridings won by the Conservatives or the NDP in 2011, with a heavy emphasis on Ontario. Mr. Trudeau drew large crowds on Monday in Ottawa, Napanee and Port Hope, with the police blocking the street at the last event to accommodate the number of supporters. The campaign will stop on Tuesday in the Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton and Kitchener-Waterloo before going to Quebec, Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia.

Public opinion surveys suggest Mr. Mulcair and his New Democrats are well behind the Liberals and at least a few percentage points behind the Conservatives, but the NDP Leader is still fighting like a front-runner.

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Mr. Mulcair headed on Monday to a Conservative riding in Saskatchewan and one in B.C.'s Lower Mainland where Liberal support is not strong.

His primary overture is to voters who are ambivalent about electing Liberals or New Democrats, but want the Conservatives removed from power.

Mr. Mulcair will visit every region of the country, starting on Tuesday in Oshawa and Toronto, where he will meet with Mohamed Fahmy, the Canadian journalist recently released from an Egyptian prison, in the hotly contested riding of Spadina-Fort York.

From there, he will travel to Halifax and then to Sherbrooke, Que., and northern Quebec before heading to Edmonton and Vancouver toward the end of the week.

In Waterloo on Monday, Mr. Harper's campaign event took on the feel of a game show.

The Conservative Leader stood beside a poster designed as a pay stub for a "Typical Canadian," residing at "123 Maple Street" in "Small Town," as Conservative supporter Nicole Ropp laid out thousands of dollars meant to tally up the purported costs her family would bear if the Liberals win.

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"As Conservatives, we believe the Ropps should keep that money," Mr. Harper said. "There is a lot at risk; a lot to think about."

The Conservatives are attacking Mr. Trudeau's pledge to end income-splitting for parents, which reduces the total tax payable for the Ropps, among others, and the promise to expand the Canada Pension Plan, which would raise payroll contributions for some workers and their employers.

However, Mr. Harper did not mention the goodies the Liberals are offering voters, including a tax break for middle-income families. The Liberals responded by noting their platform would "save middle-class families up to $1,350 per year by lowering the middle-class tax bracket."

The Tory Leader said that, unlike the Liberals, a Conservative government would deliver more tax breaks without running deficits and he reviewed the billions of dollars in tax cuts his government made over the past nine years.

"The average Canadian family now has more than $6,000 additional in their pockets," he said. "That's equivalent to what some families would spend for a year on their groceries."

For more than a year, Mr. Trudeau has told Liberal supporters to see Conservatives as neighbours and family members, not enemies.

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On Monday, the Liberal Leader said Progressive Conservative governments fought against poverty and helped to improve Canada's reputation on the world stage. "Those are values that haven't disappeared, they have just disappeared from the current Conservative Party and disappeared along with anything progressive about them," he said.

"We don't need to convince them to leave the Conservative Party, we just need to show them how Stephen Harper's party has left them," Mr. Trudeau said.

After taking a break from touring on Sunday, the Liberal Leader went to a pumpkin patch on Monday in the riding of Pontiac, in western Quebec, with his wife Sophie and their three children.

"We are on the verge of something special," he told supporters. "We have the chance to prove that fear and division won't work here, not in Canada. We have the chance to replace a vision of this country that is small and mean and nasty, with a vision that is confident and optimistic and positive."

During his daily news conference, Mr. Trudeau carefully avoided fuelling any controversy, promoting his proposed Canada Child Benefit and his tax plan, which would reduce personal taxes for most Canadians while raising the rate on those making more than $200,000 a year.

He refused to speculate on the election results and his position in the event of a minority government.

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"I am not going to engage in hypotheticals right now, we have a week to go to work extremely hard to earn Canadians' confidence with a positive message," Mr. Trudeau said. "Canadians get to decide what the next government looks like."

Asked about Conservative attacks against potential Liberal tax hikes, Mr. Trudeau accused Mr. Harper of "misleading Canadians with untruths."

"He is desperate to try and frighten Canadians away from voting for a vision that is going to put more money in the pockets of 9 out of 10 families and cut taxes for the middle-class," Mr. Trudeau said.

Out west, Mr. Mulcair is holding out the spectre of job losses, rising drug prices and privacy violations that he says would result from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal the Conservative government signed a week ago, which Mr. Trudeau has not directly opposed.

"I want to say this directly to Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau: Why do you not believe that a better deal is possible for Canadians?" he said in Maple Ridge. "Why, Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau, are you willing to sacrifice the jobs of Canadians and increase the cost of prescription drugs for seniors?"

The NDP Leader is trying to persuade Canadians that, because there were many more New Democrats than Liberals in the House of Commons when the writ was dropped, the NDP has a smaller hill to climb than does Mr. Trudeau's party on the way to victory over Mr. Harper.

The New Democrats need "just 35 more seats to stop Stephen Harper's secret trade agreement and bring change to Ottawa," Mr. Mulcair said for the third day in a row. "The Liberals simply can't do it. They need over 100 seats. Only the NDP can defeat Conservatives and only the NDP will deliver the change we've been waiting for."

Of course, that requires all incumbent New Democrats to keep their seats – and, unless Mr. Mulcair can increase his support significantly over the next week, that seems an unlikely prospect.

Still, the NDP Leader said Monday, he was "having a ball," and he smiled as he deflected questions about the polls and his possible route to victory.

The Nanos Research poll conducted for CTV and The Globe and Mail surveyed 1,200 Canadians from Oct. 9 to 11. It has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The survey and the questions are at globeandmail.com.

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