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Ontario PC Leader Tim Hukak high-fives a Sikh man during a campaign rally in Brampton on Oct. 3, 2011.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/j.p. moczulski The Globe and Mail

In the final frantic days before Thursday's election, Ontario's party leaders are crisscrossing Brampton, the sprawling Toronto suburb that was front and centre in the federal vote last spring. And the city is putting auto-insurance rates on the agenda as politicians scramble to find winning issues that will give them an edge in the deadlocked race.

The subject had previously garnered little attention in the campaign, but it is a top-of-mind issue in Brampton, where roughly two-thirds of workers commute to jobs beyond the city's borders every day.

Both Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and the NDP's Andrea Horwath have responded, seizing the opportunity to make pocketbook pledges on the issue that could tip the result in a city where all three parties have the chance to win seats.

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"We have to start reducing rates and getting a better product," Ms. Horwath said Monday, promising that, if she wins the election, she will haul insurance-company executives into her office to hammer out a deal on a new system. "I've made commitments to more transparency in how they're setting their rates."

Mr. Hudak, meanwhile, is vowing to target criminals who stage crashes and falsify claims for insurance money. He says the move could yield up to $1.3-billion in savings, and lower premiums.

"We're going to shut down the fraudulent operations, the people who are scamming the system and driving up rates for honest, law-abiding families," he declared at a campaign stop at a supporter's house in Brampton-Springdale.

He reiterated that pledge at a local convention centre Monday night, his second visit to the city in as many weeks, in front of a crowd of some 200 people. While the topic is a staple of his pitch in Brampton, he hasn't mentioned it in speeches elsewhere in the province.

While Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty has made no major promises on insurance reform, he has aggressively targeted the multicultural city of 500,000, where his party won all four seats in 2007. In six days, he has been there three times, most recently on Sunday night to leverage the star power of Bollywood in his bid for a third majority.

At a rally in the cavernous Garden Banquet Convention Centre, he received the endorsements of actor Anil Kapoor, singer Najam Sheraz and Deepa Mehta, the director of Oscar-nominated Water, who said she has been able to "triumph" in Ontario.

"The person who has made it possible is my dear friend, the person I admire from the bottom of my heart, Premier McGuinty," she told a cheering crowd of 1,300. "To vote for him is to vote for ourselves."

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The other leaders have reason to hope Brampton will vote for someone else. In the federal election, the Tories swept Liberals from power in every one of the city's ridings. And the NDP finished second in Bramalea-Gore-Malton, coming within 600 votes of taking the seat on the east side of town.

Ms. Horwath visited the local campaign office there Monday morning to pump up volunteers. The local candidate, Jagmeet Singh, has made reduction of auto-insurance rates part of his campaign messaging, as he says it comes up repeatedly at the door.

Were it not for such a public outcry, the delicate topic might not have come up in the election at all.

Bob Rae broke a pledge to create a public insurance system in the early 1990s, sowing divisions in his NDP caucus. Ms. Horwath has stopped short of calling for such a system. The right-wing Fraser Institute, meanwhile, released a report Monday that argued stringent government regulation of the insurance industry leads to increased costs.

With a report from Steve Ladurantaye

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