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Political leaders step it up as Ontario election shifts into high gear

If current public opinion polls hold true on Ontario’s forthcoming provincial election, neither politicians nor public will be sure on election night who will govern them in the months or years to follow.

The Ontario election campaign shifted into a higher gear Saturday as the province's political leaders intensified their campaign efforts in a bid to win notice from voters and break away from a gridlocked field.

PC leader Tim Hudak started his day in Dundas. But by the end of the day he'll have visited Welland, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Port Colbourne and Fort Erie.

He walked through the city's downtown, taking questions from citizens and even defending himself from an anti-highway activist who happened to run into him on the street.

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"I think we have to agree to disagree," he said to Susan McMaster, who confronted him about his party's plan to build a highway from the Niagara region to Hamilton.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath started the final weekend of the campaign with a plea for supporters to avoid strategic voting and hinted she would be announcing new campaign planks in the mad dash to the Oct. 6 finish line.

Ms. Horwath's message was clearly aimed at avoiding a bleed of voters to the two larger parties.

"They tell you you can't vote for what you want," she said at a rally at a market in Kingsville, Essex County. "They tried that back in May – remember that? It didn't work then and it won't work now."

She again refused to reveal what she would do if the election results in a hung provincial parliament in which she holds the balance of power.

In response to questions about what price she would exact for her support in a minority government situation, she said she had more promises up her sleeve.

"In the next day or so, we're going to be specific about what priorities we will have if we were to form a government," she said, hinting these would be short-term pledges.

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Her final campaign swing includes visits to close ridings, including Essex, where the NDP has mounted strong campaigns in the past.

The Liberals spent the night in Belleville Friday, before heading to Cornwall for a mid-afternoon rally.

Leader Dalton McGuinty will have his first media availability there since worker Nikki Holland resigned from the campaign and federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty endorsed the Liberal's main rival, both on Friday. Ms. Holland resigned from her volunteer roles with the campaign less than a day after an audio recording surfaced of her commenting on giving cigarettes to voters. She and the party say she was joking.

Another rally was planned for Saturday at 6 p.m. in Ottawa before turning the campaign around and heading back to Toronto for the night.

With a report from Carys Mills in Belleville, Ont.

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