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After an August overture, now begins a three-act political drama starring energized Liberals, challenged Conservatives and an NDP newcomer that has never before been centre stage. And all three are reading from different scripts, which should make for some interesting theatre.

Stephen Harper has decreed that there will be no major changes to the Tory campaign strategy, despite five weeks of bad news that has knocked the governing party from first to third in the polls, according to the Nanos daily tracking survey for The Globe and Mail and CTV.

The Conservatives hoped they could use the August lead-up to the long weekend to establish a dominant narrative: that this election is about which leader can be trusted to protect the economy and the nation's security in difficult times.

Instead, Mr. Harper has been forced on the defensive over revelations that senior staff knew former chief of staff Nigel Wright had paid Senator Mike Duffy's expenses with his own funds, news that the economy had gone into a recession in the first half of the year, and then the crushing photo of a boy lying dead on a beach, triggering accusations that the Conservatives weren't doing enough to rescue Syrian refugees.

But Mr. Harper was determined from the get-go to run the same campaign that had gotten him elected three times, and with largely the same cast of senior strategists. There will be no change of tack.

The campaign strategies laid out here are based on conversations with senior officials from all three parties, who spoke on condition they not be identified.

Despite the price the Conservatives have paid for refusing to rush Syrian refugees to Canada, the party believes that voters will, in the longer term, prefer its approach of combatting the Islamic State while balancing humanitarian and security concerns when bringing in refugees.

The Conservatives will continue attacking the Liberals rather than the NDP, because under Thomas Mulcair, the NDP today is about where it was under Jack Layton on election night 2011. The difference is that the Tories have dropped more than 10 points and the Liberals have gained more than 10 points. Those are the voters in play: Conservative/Liberal switchers.

As for this poll or that, what matters for the Conservative war room is holding onto support in the Prairies and in suburban Ontario, and they continue to feel good on both fronts.

If the Conservatives plan to spend all their time attacking the Liberals, the Liberals plan to spend much of their time attacking the NDP.

In campaign swings throughout Quebec, the suburban ridings outside Toronto known as the 905 and in Vancouver and the suburban cities outside it, Mr. Trudeau will accuse the NDP of turning into the old Liberals – willing to do anything for a vote, even it if contradicts their core principles (though Mr. Trudeau would never put it that way).

In contrast, Liberals will campaign on their plan to run deficits to pay for infrastructure and to tax the rich to help out the middle class.

But Grit strategists know they are the one party faced with a two-front war. They speak, for example of the "401 Wall." South of the major expressway that bisects the Greater Toronto Area, the Liberals fight the NDP for Toronto seats. Everywhere outside Toronto, the fight is with the Conservatives.

It's a daunting challenge, but for a party that was in danger of being written off at the opening of the campaign, the Liberals come out of Labour Day weekend with a spring in their step.

If the Liberals are targeting the NDP, the NDP is right back at them, surfing the Tory mantra that Justin Trudeau is not ready to lead and touting Mr. Mulcair's years of experience in provincial and federal politics.

The party's biggest challenge is to release an eagerly awaited platform in which the New Democrats explain just how they plan to balance the budget, as Mr. Mulcair swears he will do, while bringing in a new national child-care program and greatly increasing health-care spending.

Mr. Mulcair will campaign mainly in Quebec, where the NDP appears to be holding on to its astonishing 2011 gains; in B.C., where it hopes to replace the Conservatives as the dominant party; and in Ontario's 905. The party thus far has not been a factor there, but it must become one if it wants to win government.

The first act of this drama, which will consist of relentless, coast-to-coast campaigning by all parties, lasts from now until Sept. 17, when The Globe and Mail will kick off Act 2 with a televised leaders' debate on the economy. The next two weeks will largely be dedicated to debates, with one on foreign policy hosted by the Munk Centre and two French-language debates.

And then we'll be into October and Act 3, with a final push for votes. The most important event of that period may be the Thanksgiving weekend, when families gather across Canada to, among other things, talk political turkey.

Few would have imagined, when the campaign began Aug. 2, there would be so much drama in the first five weeks. We can only imagine how much there will be in the six weeks to come.

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