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The Globe and Mail

Harper brings show-us-a-majority message to Fortress Alberta

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper leaves a campaign rally in Beaumont, Alta., on March 28, 2011.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper took time out of the third day of the 2011 campaign to visit the Edmonton area, where the Conservatives are itching to wrest back a seat they lost in an embarrassing upset last election.

It's a noteworthy stop Monday during a political race in which the real battle is far away in regions such as the Greater Toronto Area.

Alberta voters rarely get the same attention from political parties that other provinces receive during federal election campaigns.

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That's because there's relatively few ridings in real contention.

No Liberals have been elected in Calgary since 1968 and most of the province is painted Conservative blue on ballot day.

The days when Liberal Ann McLellan used to squeak by to keep her Edmonton seat passed with her defeat in the 2006 election at the hands of Tory MP Laurie Hawn.

This time, however, Alberta may get a little bit more love during the 37-day campaign.

Mr. Harper's Tories, trying a fourth time for a majority government, need every seat they can get and are eager to take back Edmonton-Strathcona from New Democrats who toppled Rahim Jaffer in 2008.

Mr. Jaffer, a veteran MP first elected in 1997, suffered an ignominious defeat in the last national vote as the only Alberta Conservative to lose his seat in 2008.

This time NDP MP Linda Duncan is fighting to keep the riding and New Democrats are taking a strong run at nearby Edmonton-Sherwood Park.

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Speaking to a crowd of more than 800 Tory partisans Monday in Beaumont, just south of Edmonton, Mr. Harper urged Canadians to avoid switching governments during an economic recovery.

He asked for a majority government and warned that anything less would leave the Tories vulnerable to being ousted from office by their political rivals.

Mr. Harper has steadfastly ignored a March 26 pledge by the Liberals that they won't seek a coalition with the NDP - backed by the Bloc Québécois - as they did in 2008.

"Now is not the time for an unnecessary risk and political gambles," he said.

"The people who live here in Edmonton, all across northern Alberta, the people … in Edmonton-Strathcona, they have come to this country from the world over because they believe in Canada," he told his audience.

"They don't want members of Parliament who are going to sign on to Mr. Ignatieff's reckless idea that he can lose an election and run Canada backed by the NDP and Bloc Québécois."

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The Conservatives are hammering away at the coalition theme, particularly outside Quebec, because polls have shown that English-speaking Canadians are uncomfortable with the notion that the separatist Bloc might have a role in running Ottawa.

"People here know that Canada needs a government with a clear direction for our economy, a government that is stable, national and wholly committed to the unity of this country," Mr. Harper said.

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