Voters are expected to show up in huge numbers Monday after the longest campaign in modern Canadian history, in an election that appears to be turning on the appetite for change and on which opposition party would best answer that desire.
Party leaders zigzagged across the country Sunday, attempting to shore up support in ridings they need to hold and to close the sale with undecided voters who are inclined to tick the ballot in their favour.
As enthusiastic crowds packed campaign rallies on the final weekend, Elections Canada said it was preparing for a large turnout, and advised returning officers that they may have to add extra staff or begin counting ballots from the advanced polls before the end of the day Monday. Elections Canada said turnout for advance polls last weekend was 71-per-cent higher than it was in the 2011 election.
Both the Liberals and the New Democrats have campaigned for the past 78 days to persuade Canadians that they represent the best option to provide a new direction in Ottawa; Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau seized the momentum and built a significant lead over Tom Mulcair and the NDP in national polls. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper focused on Mr. Trudeau over the final days of the campaign, warning voters that a Liberal government would usher in a period of higher taxes and large deficits.
Polls suggest a large majority of voters want to see change in Ottawa, but it's unclear how that will translate into seats in tight races across the country.
Mr. Trudeau – who finished his campaign in Montreal after a marathon, cross-country blitz – spent the early part of the day Sunday in Edmonton and Calgary, showcasing his party's hope for surprises when the polls close on Monday. The Liberals have failed to make major inroads in Alberta for decades, since the days of Pierre Trudeau's National Energy Policy, while the sponsorship scandal has severely tarnished the Liberal brand in Quebec.
The Liberal Leader addressed the matter head on at a rally in Edmonton. "This place is important to me, it matters deeply," he said in front of hundreds of supporters. "It's a message that I'm proud to deliver here with a big smile as a Liberal, as a Trudeau and as a Quebecker." In French, he added that he hoped that Quebeckers would play a large part in his efforts to "end the Harper decade."
Mr. Mulcair concluded his long and challenging fight to persuade voters to elect the country's first NDP government with rallies in Canada's largest cities, claiming to have momentum while polls suggest it began slipping away from him weeks ago.
The NDP Leader insisted the Liberals are promising change but would fail to deliver it if they form government. He pointed to the problem the Liberals had with a campaign co-chair, Daniel Gagnier, who was forced to resign after writing a memo to TransCanada Corp. advising the company how to lobby Ottawa on its proposed Energy East pipeline in the event of a change in government.
"Canadians deserve change in Ottawa," Mr. Mulcair told a crowd of about 1,000 supporters at a rally Sunday in a Toronto convention centre. "Let's remember that it was Liberal arrogance and corruption that Stephen Harper promised to clean up and, today, after 10 years of Conservative scandals, the Liberals are asking you to trust them to clean up that mess."
After the stop in Toronto, Mr. Mulcair headed to Montreal and his home province, where his party rode an Orange Wave in 2011 to become the Official Opposition but faces a tough four-way battle this time.
Mr. Harper sharpened his attack on Mr. Trudeau in the waning hours of the 2015 election campaign, trying to frame the Liberal front-runner as an elitist who would put special interests and the needs of the federal bureaucracy ahead of ordinary Canadians.
He launched his final appeal for votes in the campaign with yet another rally in the Greater Toronto Area on Sunday morning, where he warned a Liberal government would mark a return to fat-cat Ottawa.
"When you cut away all the fancy rhetoric, that's all it is really about: turning back the clock to the days where everybody worked for a handful of special interests," Mr. Harper said. "We do not want to go back to the days where government ran for a handful of Liberal special-interest groups and for the bureaucracy. We want to serve the hard-working families of this country."
Though he has been in power for nearly a decade, Mr. Harper has consistently sought to run as a populist outsider. The anti-elitist appeal likely resonates most strongly with the party's base, and Mr. Harper and the Tories will need to work flat out on election day to get those supporters to the polls.
Mr. Harper received an 11th-hour blow on Sunday from any unlikely source – a former legal counsel in the Prime Minister's Office and lifelong conservative, Benjamin Perrin. In an e-mail to reporters, Mr. Perrin said his experience with the PMO's handling of the scandal involving Senator Mike Duffy persuaded him that the Conservative government "has lost its moral authority to govern" and that he had voted "for change" in advanced polling last weekend.
On the eve of the election, the Liberals appeared to have widened their lead over the Conservatives in a Nanos Research poll. When asked which party they would support if an election were held today, 39.1 per cent of respondents picked the Liberals, 30.5 per cent picked the Tories and 19.7 per cent chose the NDP.
As for other parties, 4.6 per cent of respondents picked the Green Party and 5.5 per cent chose the Bloc Québécois.
The poll was conducted by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail and CTV and surveyed 800 people on Oct. 18 through live phone interviews. The margin of error is plus/minus 3.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The full survey and questions can be read here.