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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff campaigns in Toronto on March 28, 2011.

MARK BLINCH

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff will announce a grant program Tuesday that would provide financial support for post-secondary students, with an emphasis on giving more money to lower-income students.

The investment in educaton and learning, should the Liberals form a government, is the first major policy promise from Mr. Ignatieff during the campaign. It's also a bald effort to contrast the Liberals' priorities for families with those of the Conservatives, who made a tax-break pledge for families with children under 18 - though the Conservative break wouldn't take effect for years to come.

"The fact is that Canadian families have never felt more squeezed than they are now," a Liberal official told the Globe ahead of the announcement, which is to be in Oakville, Ont. "They're squeezed generationally, they are squeezed demographically, they're squeezed financially."

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The Liberals are seizing on the heavy personal debt load being carried by Canadians and say parents are struggling to give their children a good education as they save for their retirement and look after their own aging parents.

Earlier Monday, Mr. Ignatieff took a swipe at the Conservatives' ethnic-vote strategy. Ignatieff strolled through Toronto's Chinatown Monday and ate a dumpling and he will end the day at a campaign rally in multicultural Mississauga - but he says he's not campaigning for the ethnic vote.

The Liberal Leader, rather, suggested it is insulting what Stephen Harper and his immigration minister, Jason Kenney, are doing in their efforts to target the large ethnic vote, especially in the 905 region.

"The word ethnic vote, spare us," Mr. Ignatieff said at a press conference Monday at the Fairmont Royal York in downtown Toronto. "I don't think it treats people with respect; these are Canadians. I'm going to everybody out there and saying a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian ... come into the Big Red Tent."

The tent, of course, is a metaphor for a Liberal Party - its colours are red and white - where everyone is welcome.

He said he wasn't going to Mississauga Monday night to talk to the "ethnic vote" - "I'm going to talk to Canadians."

Later, he addressed the issue in more detail, arguing that he doesn't want to divide Canadians that way. He talked about his Russian roots and how proud he is of them. He said a Sikh is a Canadian, as is a Tamil.

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Mr. Harper, meanwhile, campaigned in two large multicultural centres Monday - Brampton, Ont., and Burnaby, B.C. - sending out the message that they won't be taken for granted.

A senior Ignatieff official noted that the Conservative Leader, in his speech, referred to the members of the various cultural groups as "you people," which he deemed questionable.

The official was referring to Mr. Harper's speech Monday, in which he said: "Friends, I know you're here for one thing. You're here for Canada. People who live here, people who live in Brampton, in Mississauga, and Etobicoke. You people have come to this country from the world over because you believe in this country."

The Harper Conservatives have been very effective in courting the ethnic vote - but not so effective at keeping their strategy secret after the vote-getting plan leaked out to the media.

Still, the Tories managed to win the recent by-election in Vaughan - an area with a large Canadian-Italian population that was Liberal stronghold for more than 20 years.

In addition, Mr. Kenney, the immigration minister, has been working hard among groups of South Asian, Sikh, Chinese and Korean communities.

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