Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is targeting New Democrats in the final days of the campaign, hoping to persuade voters in key Ontario ridings that he has the momentum to win Oct. 19 while laying bare the intense battle between the two parties for progressive voters.
The strategy has angered the NDP, and the bad blood between the two parties stands to live on in the event of a minority government. Both Mr. Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair have said they would try to bring down Stephen Harper if the Conservatives win the most seats, which could force their parties to co-operate in a minority.
But the Harper Conservatives, currently running second to Mr. Trudeau in most polls, are resisting turning up the tempo of their leader's public campaign with rallies. Instead, the Tories say they're dedicating as many volunteers as possible to the ground game in every riding, where they are betting that identifying Conservative voters and getting them to the polls will make the difference in tight races.
Mr. Trudeau is hoping to attract NDP supporters by stating he has the "most progressive platform" of any party in this election, while some of his Liberal candidates argue a vote for the NDP equals a vote for Mr. Harper, given the current party standings in the polls.
NDP officials are irate to see Mr. Trudeau going after their own instead of targeting Conservative incumbents, especially as Ontario's Liberal Premier, Kathleen Wynne, is helping out her federal counterparts by attacking New Democrats.
Meanwhile, Ms. Wynne suggested Tuesday that she could drop her plans to create the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan in the event of a Liberal victory, given Mr. Trudeau's promise to improve the Canada Pension Plan.
The Liberal Party started the election well behind the NDP in the number of seats at dissolution – 36 to 95 – but Mr. Trudeau has jumped ahead of the NDP in voting intentions in the most recent public-opinion polls. With few Liberal seats to defend, Mr. Trudeau is mostly campaigning in both NDP and Conservative ridings, while the New Democrats have little to gain by campaigning in Liberal strongholds.
When Mr. Mulcair was asked Tuesday in Oshawa if there was too much bad blood and too many policy differences between his party and the Liberals for him to work effectively with Mr. Trudeau, he ducked the question. Instead, he attacked Mr. Trudeau for "fighting me more than he's been fighting Stephen Harper."
"I challenge Mr. Trudeau to start taking on Stephen Harper. My adversary here, from Day 1, the person I have to defeat and replace, is Stephen Harper," Mr. Mulcair told reporters.
During the campaign, Mr. Trudeau has not ruled out an informal co-operation with the New Democrats in the House. However, he insisted Tuesday he would not support Mr. Harper in the event of a minority, or even abstain on confidence votes to keep the Conservative Party in power. "There is no circumstance in which I could either support him, or even stand back and allow him to continue to be Prime Minister," the Liberal Leader said.
With so many votes at stake in Ontario, Ms. Wynne is not the only politician lending her voice to the federal campaign. Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Doug, turned up to support Mr. Harper Tuesday in the Ford's home turf of Etobicoke and Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was campaigning in Brantford and the Niagara region.
The low-key strategy being employed by the Tories means their campaign events are not jam-packed with party supporters; Tuesday's stop in Etobicoke drew no more than 200 people. The event the day before in Waterloo, Ont., had the same number or less, with boxes of apples stacked around them to create the impression the venue was full.
Campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke defended the Conservative strategy, saying the Tories have little interest in staging throngs of supporters when a tight election looms where the difference in some races will be decided by logistics.
"We want our volunteers not at events, being an audience for [the media]. We want them out meeting voters and identifying the vote. At the end of the day, this is a very close race and the ground game is going to matter," Mr. Teneycke said.
The races in areas such as vote-rich Ontario, home to more than one-third of the seats in the House of Commons, have grown more challenging for the Conservatives as NDP support wanes and centre and left-of-centre votes consolidate behind the Liberals. This means the Tories can't count on the NDP to split the vote as they did in previous elections.
A group calling itself Just The Facts Canada ran a full-page ad in The Globe and Mail on Tuesday urging Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau to cede ridings to each other in constituencies where public-opinion surveys suggest they have little chance of winning and vote-splitting could pave the way for a Conservative victory. It is just one of several proposals for strategic voting being promoted by groups that aim to defeat Mr. Harper.
But Mr. Mulcair, who insists he is still working toward an NDP majority, said he had no willingness to consider such collaboration. People who are pushing for pre-election co-operation with Mr. Trudeau "should go back to the 2011 polls – the same polls that were showing that the NDP was in fourth place in Quebec a week out from the election campaign," he said.
Despite surveys that suggest his party has dropped to third place – lagging roughly 10 percentage points behind the front-running Liberals – Mr. Mulcair is still aggressively campaigning for the win and is travelling primarily to places where his party hopes to take seats from the Conservatives.
Mr. Mulcair will be in Halifax on Wednesday. He would like to pick up at least one more seat in Nova Scotia and will lend support to Megan Leslie, one of the stars of his caucus. He then heads to Quebec, Edmonton and British Columbia, areas where he still has significant support. The NDP Leader's speeches will focus on his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that was signed a week ago by the Conservative government and his assertion that he has an easier path to victory than Mr. Trudeau because he has more incumbent MPs.