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Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail

Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail

1. Beset on all sides. Michael Ignatieff is under attack from Stephen Harper's Conservatives, who are accusing the Liberal leader of once again "scheming to impose an unwanted coalition." At the same time, Jack Layton and his New Democrats are taking shots at the Liberals, arguing that Mr. Ignatieff is being disingenuous when he rejects the idea of forming coalitions.

In these dog days of summer, fear-mongering over coalition governments is something politicians are revisiting. The issue came to the fore again when Mr. Ignatieff responded to a question this week during a stop in the Ottawa Valley as part of his cross-Canada his bus tour.

The NDP charges that Mr. Ignatieff is already in a coalition - and it's with the Harper Conservatives. "To date Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals have cast 107 confidence votes supporting Stephen Harper's Conservative agenda," the party said in a "reality check" release Tuesday.

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But Mr. Ignatieff has dismissed the idea, arguing that he is not "running to make a coalition with anybody else, I am running to win a Liberal government."

The NDP found this a little rich. "What Mr. Ignatieff failed to mention is his own sorry record on supporting Harper's Conservative agenda."

Meanwhile, comments in a French-language magazine from Quebec Liberal MP Denis Coderre - "I am not against a coalition after an election if the numbers ensure a more stable government" - caught the attention of Conservative Party strategists.

"Michael Ignatieff said previously that he would support of a coalition but now has changed his tune and refuses to tell Canadians exactly what he has in mind," the Tories say in a memo to insiders.

"Coderre's comments simply expose once again Ignatieff's plan to form a coalition that would give the NDP co-management of the economy, and a policy veto for the Bloc Quebecois, a party that would break up or country."

In response, a senior Ignatieff official says: "Nice try, but they'll have to do better in order to change the channel."

"Fear of flying did not work. Fear of mean census-takers waiting outside your door did not work. Fear of rising unreported crime did not work. And fear of imaginary coalition does not work either."

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2. How it will go down. Stephen Harper has said repeatedly over the past few days that Canadians do not want an election, which means he must have a plan in the works. Conservative sources say it could look like this:

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will deliver a substantive economic update in the fall (he does this every year) that will paint the Conservatives as the most competent economic managers.

The update will show the Tories are one year ahead of schedule in fighting the deficit - as the Conference Board of Canada suggested this summer. The Tories played down the recent Conference Board report but the source said that Mr. Flaherty could play it hard in the economic update.

But with the good news will come some bad news. The update, the source says, will also spell out several of the tough measures Mr. Harper and his government must take to deal even more aggressively with the deficit as the stimulus comes to an end. This will prepare or help to pre-condition Canadians for what could be a difficult budget in 2011.

Expect, too, for the government to be even more aggressive in pushing through legislation in the fall, including changes to copyright laws and the wireless industry.

The promotion of John Baird to the Government House leader will also change the complexion of the minority Parliament. Aggressive and partisan, it's not clear if Mr. Baird was put in that position as an act of provocation or simply because the Prime Minister wanted to take no chances in pushing through his agenda.

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Most national pollsters are saying there is no chance of a fall election, given that there is no clear path to a majority government for any of the parties.

3. 'The volatility is real.' A third national poll in almost as many days has Stephen Harper's Conservatives with a six-point lead over the Liberals. This differs from two other polls that have the Tories and Michael Ignatieff's Liberals virtually tied.

Conducted by Harris-Decima for The Canadian Press, it has the Tories at 34 per cent compared to the Liberals at 28 per cent. The NDP are at 15 and the Green Party is at 12 per cent.

EKOS pollster Frank Graves, whose latest poll had the Tories and Liberals virtually deadlocked, says he is sensing change again as he is back in the field this week, preparing for the release of his poll next Thursday.

"This suggests that the volatility is real rather than random oscillation," Mr. Graves told The Globe. "Beyond that it is very difficult to explain. Perhaps a rebound from Harper's reappearance on the public stage? It's all quite odd."

Harris-Decima pollster Allan Gregg, meanwhile, told CP this Tory recovery is part of the pattern of polls of the past few years - the Conservatives slump and then rebound.

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"What you see is an ongoing resilience in the Conservative support base," he said. "If they get a little period of relative quiet, their vote comes back quite quickly whereas the Liberals have a very, very hard time getting any sustained traction."

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