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Conservatives released an attack ad on March 19, 2012, criticizing Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae's tenure as NDP premier of Ontario.

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The Conservatives have launched a televised attack ad against Bob Rae that's similar in tone to the campaigns successfully waged against the Interim Liberal Leader's predecessors.

Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion chose not to respond in kind and, as a result, the ads proved effective in discrediting them as political leaders.

But this time the Liberals say they will fight back and will use the ad to both raise money and to appeal to voters who go to the polls Monday in a by-election in Jack Layton's former riding of Toronto-Danforth.

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"My colleagues at the party will be asking Canadians to contribute financially to our response. The scale of that response will depend on how generous Canadians will be in our appeal to fight back," Rae spokesman Daniel Lauzon said in an e-mail.

"Of course," he said, "the people of Toronto-Danforth will get the first chance to respond today – and tonight's Conservative results will speak volumes of how these kinds of attacks are perceived by voters."

Mr. Rae isn't the permanent leader of the Liberal Party – there is still an "interim" in his title. The Liberals aren't the Official Opposition – they are the third party in the House of Commons. And an election is more than three years away.

But that has not deterred the Conservatives. Their ad is now up on YouTube and will run on television stations in markets where the Liberals are competitive with the Tories starting Tuesday.

It features an announcer ripping into the Interim Liberal Leader's economic record while he was NDP premier of Ontario in the 1990s. The announcer says Mr. Rae turned the province into a welfare state and asks: "If he couldn't run a province, why does he think he can run Canada?"

A second ad released by the Conservatives, meanwhile, boasts about Prime Minister Stephen Harper's economic performance.

Mr. Lauzon said the Liberals will fight fire with fire.

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"They want to talk economic record? Stephen Harper took a $13-billion surplus and turned it into the biggest deficit in Canadian history," Mr. Lauzon said in an e-mail, referring to the $56-billion deficit Mr. Harper's government racked up during the recent economic downturn.

Mr. Harper added $125-billion to the national debt, Mr. Lauzon said, and since he became Prime Minister, 270,000 more Canadians are out of work.

Mr. Rae was premier during a period of economic downturn and the province's deficit was about $10-billion a year.

"I started subways, they destroyed them; I build social housing, they destroy it; I build people up, they tear them down," Mr. Rae said Monday. "Plus the Blue Jays won the World Series twice when I was premier."

When asked why the Tories would attack someone who is just interim leader of the third party, Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey said Mr. Rae refuses to rule out a run at the full-time leadership and "everyone knows he wants to be prime minister."

Conservatives believe Canadians have a right to know the record of someone who wants to be their leader, Mr. DeLorey added.

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And other parties are running ads as well, he said. "The Liberal Party has billboards with Bob Rae on them, something that is unprecedented for an interim leader to do. And he's changed the Liberal Party of Canada news releases so that they no longer refer to him as interim leader, but as leader."

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