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Ignatieff looks to stave off Tories in Ontario heartland

A young girl shows off her sunglasses to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff at a market Saturday, April 30, 2011 in Guelph, Ont.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Southwestern Ontario was where the Liberal Party of Canada was born, but today it is a Blue Tory sea. Saturday, Michael Ignatieff campaigned through the Ontario heartland in a last-ditch effort to turn that blue sea red.

"On Monday you're going to see the confidence and pride of the Liberal Party," Mr. Ignatieff predicted at a farmer's market in Guelph on a glorious spring morning.

"We're going to get the vote out and everyone's going to be surprised."

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Surprised is the least most people would be. All signs suggest that Mr. Ignatieff will be trounced in a region that mixes traditional farming with major industries and technology hubs, in which small towns as old as the province survive beside, or are enveloped by, endless sprawl.

Free-trade farmers angry with the Tory business interests in Toronto banded together in the years before Confederation to form the Reform Party from which the Liberals evolved. It was Grit for decades, and under Jean Chr├ętien every seat from Windsor to Greater Toronto was safely Liberal.

Today, the old party hangs on to a riding in Guelph and another in London. Both are in jeopardy.

But the indefatigable Liberal Leader continues to insist that the weekend will produce a Liberal surge. If so, it must start in this region, where some Conservative ridings are only narrowly held.

So Mr. Ignatieff began the day shaking hands and taking bites out of apples at the farmer's market, then loaded up the bus to head to nearby Paris, one of Ontario's prettiest towns, before moving on to Stoney Creek, now a suburb of Hamilton, and Oakville, before ending the day visiting a barbeque in Mississauga and an Indian restaurant in Brampton. He will, if nothing else, be full.

The reporters watching the tour suspect the Liberal Leader must be frustrated at his inability to convince Canadians that a moderate, pragmatic Liberal government would bring help to students, parents and caregivers while continuing to reduce the deficit.

But Mr. Ignatieff insists this isn't so.

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"This has not been a frustrating campaign for me. It has been an inspiring opportunity to present our opportunities to the Canadian people," he maintained. "And guys, it's not over."

He will succeed if sheer will can return Southwestern Ontario to it's Liberal roots. But the polls tell us the sea is still blue.

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