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Harper bangs majority-or-bust drum in face of daunting polls

Tory Leader Stephen Harper delivers a campaign speech in Montreal on April 29, 2011.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Stephen Harper remains "optimistic" he'll win a majority government May 2 but warns the Conservative grip on Ottawa would be short-lived should he merely secure a minority mandate.

The Conservative Leader, facing polls that suggest chances of a Tory majority have dimmed, said he nevertheless remains confident it's still in reach.

However, he predicted, he won't be allowed to govern very long should he only win a plurality of seats in the Commons.

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Mr. Harper said he remains convinced his NDP, Liberal and Bloc Québécois rivals will unite to oust him and install an alternative government..

"We will accept any mandate from the Canadian public," the Conservative Leader told reporters at a Montreal campaign stop Friday. "But my fear is that if we have a minority mandate, the other parties will not accept it."

He added: "They are committed to their agenda of tens of billions of dollars of new spending financed by tens of billions of dollars of new taxes."

The latest polling from Nanos Research shows the Conservatives only ahead of the NDP by five percentage points in national support. The Tories have the backing of 36.4 per cent of respondents, the NDP 31.2 per cent and the Liberals 22 per cent.

The New Democrats are far ahead of their rivals in Quebec, at 41.4 per cent with the Bloc trailing at 23.6 per cent and the Conservatives at 15.8 per cent.

Mr. Harper said a minority Conservative government would listen to other parties' ideas but would not make changes to its budget plans if it felt these would hurt the economy.

"I think it's important to note we have been the longest serving minority government in Canadian history because in fact we do work with others, we do listen to others."

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He said the Tories would not hike taxes on corporations or enact carbon taxes as his rivals propose.

"What they are demanding of us that is we go to the point in terms of permanent increases in spending that would increase taxes. And the truth of the matter is this: This is just fantasy: the views of all the opposition parties, that you can somehow impose tens of billions of dollars on taxes on the Canadian economy without impacting anybody," he said.

Mr. Harper started Friday with a campaign stop in Montreal that featured all his area candidates. He's fighting a burgeoning NDP vote in Quebec where the party is now leading in many polls.

Then the Conservative Leader is spending the rest of the day in Ontario.

He hit the open road for a series of whistle stops in ridings en route to Toronto, including Kingston and the Greater Toronto Area riding of Ajax-Pickering. In both of these areas Tories are hoping to steal the seats from Liberals.

The Kingston and the Islands riding has no incumbent after popular local MP Peter Milliken resigned and the Tories are running a star candidate, former diplomat Chris Alexander, against Liberal Mark Holland in Ajax-Pickering. Mr. Holland won by about 3,200 votes in 2008.

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Finally Mr. Harper ends his day with another rally in Brampton, which is where the Tories hope to unseat several Liberal incumbents including Ruby Dhalla. Ms. Dhalla won by more than 770 votes in 2008.

Mr. Harper overnights in Richmond Hill, Ont., north of Toronto Friday.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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