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The Globe and Mail

Harper bets on B.C. for his majority gamble

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen (behind) are mobbed by supporters as they attend the Vaisakhi festival in Vancouver, BC on Saturday April 16, 2011.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper had the suburban Vancouver crowd stomping and cheering, to the extent people who hold up signs like "Harper is Stability" can stomp and cheer.

And he offered a new warning at his Saturday evening campaign rally: a Liberal-led coalition "would trust the NDP with the economy and the Bloc with the country."

These stump-speech wrinkles are aimed at more than firing up the faithful. The Conservatives are still looking for ways to drive home their message: that voters must choose between a Conservative majority and a sound economy or an unstable Liberal minority that will lead to ruin. They are still looking for ways to galvanize voters who remain, after three weeks of this election campaign, largely unconvinced.

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There is little evidence to suggest that the Conservatives are making sustained, leaving-them-in-the-dust headway across the nation. Their lead over the Liberals hovers around 10 points or so - respectable, but not convincing for a leader who has gambled everything on a majority government or the loss of power.

In Battleground Ontario, the Conservatives have little advantage in the polls, though party strategists insist their internal riding-by-riding surveys in the Toronto region are more encouraging.

In British Columbia, however, the situation is tentatively better. The Nanos daily tracking poll for The Globe and Mail and CTV shows the Conservatives with a consistent modest lead over both the Liberals and NDP.

Wouldn't it be something if the route to a majority government ran not along the shores of Lake Ontario, but along the Pacific Coast?

From Esquimalt-Juan De Fuca in Vancouver Island to New Westminster-Coquitlam in eastern Greater Vancouver, there are as many as eight opposition-held seats that the Conservatives are gunning for in B.C., though they would settle for four.

We've got a solid, national campaign, they insist; we're well organized on the ground in B.C.; it will all come down to who is able to bring out the vote; we think we can get that vote out.

They make the same argument in the 30 ridings across the country that they believe are within reach. They only need 12.

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We must not forget what has emerged as a central fact of this campaign: By warning that anything short of a Conservative majority government must inevitably result in a Liberal minority government propped up by the NDP and the Bloc, Mr. Harper has legitimized that possibility. These are the dice that he has chosen to roll.

He has chosen to roll them because he believes greater British Columbia is ready to go Conservative all the way, or at least almost all.

We'll see you again soon, Vancouver.

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