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Ignatieff skating hard until final whistle

After a final Quebec stop, Michael Ignatieff headed for Southern Ontario on Friday in a bid to change the score in a game that's almost over.

The Liberal Leader is offering a spirited defence of his campaign, even though polls show his party has declined to what Liberals can only hope is rock bottom – the support of about one voter in five.

But Mr. Ignatieff said he believes voters will rally to the Liberals to prevent Stephen Harper from winning yet another election.

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"Everyone is calling the hockey game in the middle of the third period," he told reporters. "That's weird. When I watch hockey games, I wait until the final whistle. I wait until the final siren. And the final siren hasn't sounded."

No one can predict for sure how the rise of the NDP – whose platform Mr. Ignatieff derided as "a trip to Fantasy Island" – will translate into seats on Monday. If the Liberals are lucky, Jack Layton's new-found popularity in Quebec could drain away Bloc Québécois votes, preserving Liberal-held seats and even permitting a gain or two in ridings such as Ahuntsic in Montreal.

But rising New Democrat fortunes in Ontario could be fatal for the party, forcing down its vote and allowing the Conservatives to capture precious seats in the Liberals' last stronghold of Greater Toronto.

And it makes hopes of Liberal gains in places such as London and Kitchener-Waterloo, where Mr. Ignatieff scheduled events for Friday afternoon and evening, that much more challenging.

Some armchair strategists believe Mr. Ignatieff should change his campaign strategy in these final days, focusing on ridings that the Liberals have a chance of preserving rather than continuing to venture into opposition-held territory. But the Liberal Leader is not for turning.

An alternative strategy could involve urging voters who want to prevent another Harper government to vote strategically for whichever candidate has the best shot at defeating the Conservatives in each riding.

But Mr. Ignatieff continues to campaign for a win, based on platform that offers help to students, parents and caregivers while continuing to lower the deficit.

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"I'm not going to change my tune now," he maintained. "I think this is the right thing to say. Canadians want a clear choice."

They have a weekend to decide whether to change their mind in the millions and vote Liberal.

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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