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Stephen Harper

Stephen Harper returned to Ottawa Sunday night after an intense eight-day stretch of campaigning to sleep in his own bed and began a day of preparation for the debates on April 12 and 13.

The Conservatives were tight-lipped about where the Tory Leader might conduct pre-debate training but one possibility is the party's campaign headquarters on Lancaster Road in an Ottawa industrial park.

The Tories are spinning reporters to lower expectations for Mr. Harper's performance, suggesting that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is the better debater after decades of work as a TV pundit in the United States and the U.K.

"Mr. Ignatieff spent 30 years debating and speaking to TV audiences,"

Michael Ignatieff

Michael Ignatieff will be in Ontario on Monday. As he prepares for the debates, his focus will be to appear strong in challenges with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, and convince voters that the NDP is not a credible choice for ousting the Tories.

Though he's a seasoned TV host, Mr. Ignatieff played down his experience at the weekend. "I've never done this before … so I go in there with a sense of a little apprehension," he said. "I've got a lot to learn."

Jack Layton

New Democrat Leader Jack Layton is in Ottawa where he will be closeted with people like long-time party adviser Brian Topp, his chief of staff Anne McGrath, and his campaign director Brad Lavigne.

Although Mr. Layton will be running through all potential debate scenarios, he will put special emphasis on his looming face-offs with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

Mr. Layton has debated Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper on other occasions but Mr. Ignatieff is a bit of an unknown.

The NDP Leader and his team will be running though tapes of Mr. Ignatieff's past perfomances to determine where he may be vulnerable.

Although common wisdom would suggest that, because Mr. Ignatieff has never participated in a debate of this type before he will lack the benefit of experience, the New Democrats don't see it that way.

The format this year is new, they said, so the playing ground will be level. And Mr. Ignatieff, they say, has had plenty of experience both in his previous career as a professor and during his run for the Liberal leadership.

Gilles Duceppe

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe starts thinking about election debates months ahead of time, whether in the shower or on his bike. He rehearses snappy replies in his head or asks his staff to prepare dossiers on specific matters.

In the days leading up to the events, he reads briefing notes and prepares lines with his team, without getting into mock debates.

A crucial element for him, however, is also relaxing. He spends time preparing by himself, reading material in his room, or doing other things to remain cool. Some of his favourite hobbies include reading, listening to music and solving Sudoku puzzles.

As the most experienced debater this week, his objective will be to put Conservative Leader Stephen Harper on the defensive over his economic policies and government priorities.

Mr. Duceppe, however, will also try to appeal to both urban and rural Quebeckers, while the Conservatives are aiming their pitch solely at people in more isolated regions of the province.