The Liberal Party suffered its biggest blow of the election campaign as its co-chair stepped down for giving advice concerning the next government to a major oil firm, on the same day Leader Justin Trudeau started to call for a majority mandate.
Daniel Gagnier, a political veteran who is also a consultant in the energy sector, spent time on Mr. Trudeau's campaign bus last week and played a key role in organizing the party in Quebec. Earlier this week, he also sent a three-page note to TransCanada Corp. officials on potential scenarios for the energy sector after the election, according to a leaked e-mail.
The controversy stands to hurt the Liberal Party in Quebec, where TransCanada's Energy East project has been a lightning rod for opposition to proposed pipelines in the province.
Mr. Trudeau will travel to Quebec on Thursday for a rally in Montreal and other partisan events, one day after stating he wants a stable, four-year term on Oct. 19 to implement the platform that has helped his party top national polls.
"It's obvious we want to form a strong government and deliver what is in our platform to Canadians," Mr. Trudeau told reporters after touring Mohawk College in Hamilton. "Am I asking Canadians to vote for us? Yes. Am I asking them to vote for us across the country? Yes. Am I asking them for a majority government? Yes."
The Conservatives are privately acknowledging the strong desire for change among voters, which has forced Stephen Harper's campaign to spend far more time trying to shore up support in Ontario than originally planned. Mr. Harper will be in Toronto on Saturday for a rally organized in part by controversial former mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug.
The Conservative Leader defended his association with Rob Ford despite the Tories' self-styled tough-on-crime reputation. "I am not going to cast those kind of judgments. The support of that family for our party is longstanding and well-known," Mr. Harper said.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is still calling the campaign a three-way race, but he has also been put on the defensive. In addition to campaigning in Conservative ridings, Mr. Mulcair has been going to Nova Scotia and Quebec to help out candidates in ridings that went to the NDP in 2011.
The latest Nanos Research tracking poll suggests that the Liberal Party has a nearly seven-point lead over the Conservatives. The national numbers show the Liberals at 36.1-per-cent support, followed by the Tories at 29.2 per cent and the NDP at 24.5 per cent. The Nanos poll, conducted for CTV and The Globe and Mail, surveyed 1,200 Canadians from Oct. 10 to 13. It has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Mr. Trudeau's most senior adviser, Gerald Butts, recently warned party workers to avoid appearing over-confident despite the positive poll results, stating that "arrogance is the Liberal Party's kryptonite," according to party sources.
Still, political analyst Jean Lapierre, who is a former Liberal minister, said Mr. Trudeau is facing the risk of scaring off voters who still have questions about his capabilities.
On the resignation of the Liberal campaign co-chair, the Conservatives called Mr. Gagnier's behaviour evidence that the Liberals would bring cronyism back to Ottawa. And the NDP seized on the story to attack the Liberal Party and its ties with the energy industry.
In the e-mail, Mr. Gagnier tells five people at TransCanada Corp. to target the right people in a new government as quickly as possible so they can help shape either Liberal or NDP decisions on a national energy strategy. Such a lobbying effort would be needed to ensure the planned "in-service" dates of projects like Energy East aren't put at risk, says the e-mail, obtained by The Globe and Mail and other media organizations.
Mr. Gagnier writes that getting this "early entry point" in any revisions to the rules governing the National Energy Board "is sensitive," but also an opportunity. "If the premiers and the new PM want investment and jobs, they will have to provide a lead and an efficient time-frame for getting this done," he says in the e-mail.
Mr. Gagnier issued a statement late on Wednesday, arguing he did not break any rules with his actions, but said he didn't want to become a distraction to the campaign.
On Wednesday, the Liberal campaign toured Conservative ridings in Southern Ontario and the GTA. Mr. Trudeau is set to campaign in Quebec on Thursday to make a pitch to voters to elect Liberal MPs and play a role in the next government. The tour will go to mostly francophone ridings to the west and north of Montreal that were swept up in the 2011 Orange Wave. It will also make a stop in Mr. Mulcair's riding of Outremont.
Mr. Harper is trying to shift the ballot question away from desire for change and instead to the question of which party would leave more money in Canadians' pockets. On Wednesday in Brantford-Brant, he targeted seniors – those Canadians most likely to cast ballots – warning the elderly that the Liberal Leader's plans to increase federal spending, run deficits and cancel some Conservative tax breaks would end up hiking the cost of living for them.
"They run a campaign on three or four slogans. I think it's time that Canadians, as we approach election day, look at the platforms. Look at the direction for the country," the Conservative Leader said.
The NDP campaign team says it will spend most of the remaining days of the campaign in Conservative ridings, but Mr. Mulcair is also trying to salvage some of his current seats.
With a report from The Canadian Press