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Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie , Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil and NDP Leader Darrell Dexter.

ANDREW VAUGHAN AND PAUL DARROW

NDP Leader Darrell Dexter and his Progressive Conservative counterpart, Jamie Baillie, are launching ads attacking Stephen McNeil, leader of the front-running Liberals, as the Nova Scotia election campaign begins to show signs of life in its final week.

Voters decide on Oct. 8 whether to give the NDP a second mandate after an election campaign that has been lacklustre.

Mr. McNeil was the clear target of the other two leaders in a debate on Monday night, suggesting the parties' internal polling is mirroring surveys in the Halifax Chronicle Herald newspaper that indicate the Liberals are poised to form government, with the NDP as the underdog.

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"Stephen McNeil – when he's saying no to you, why would you say yes to him?" asks the female narrator of the new NDP ad, taking aim at the Liberal jobs strategy. In it, the NDP accuses Mr. McNeil – who has criticized the Dexter government for handing out cheques to corporations to save jobs and traditional industries – of turning his back on families and job creation.

The NDP's other new ad criticizes Mr. McNeil's proposal to reduce district health authorities to two from 10.

The NDP believes many people decide in the final weekend, and as many as 10 per cent make up their minds in the voting booth, and that this will be a big factor in the outcome.

About 23 per cent of respondents in the newspaper's poll are undecided, do not know or will not say which party they support.

The election is expected to come down to three-way races in many of the province's 51 ridings. Mr. Dexter will focus over the next week on ridings along the South Shore, where the NDP government helped local industries, and in the Halifax Regional Municipality, where the NDP won 14 of 18 seats in 2009.

The PCs are also running new radio ads, in which they attack Mr. McNeil for opposing tax reductions and not being onside with the Tory promise to scrap the generous MLA pension.

"If Mr. McNeil doesn't even see the problems with the rich MLA pension plan, he is telling Nova Scotians he is really not going to change anything meaningful about the way the province is run, and that to me is what the next week is going to be about," Mr. Baillie told reporters after the debate.

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The PC leader is focusing his campaign on the rural ridings, essentially ceding the Halifax urban areas to the NDP and Liberals.

As for the front runner, Mr. McNeil is planning a weekend blitz, campaigning from Cape Breton and ending up in his Annapolis Valley riding on voting day.

The Liberal message is one of caution – no HST cut until the surplus is large enough, and the hope that the budget could be balanced in their first mandate. The NDP released a balanced budget this year, but Mr. McNeil has said he believes the deficit is at least $12-million.

He is concentrating on education, power rates and cutting health care administration expenses – and trying to stay above the fray.

"I think I've stayed calm at every debate … I think I've been out doing what I've always done, which is when I need to be passionate about an issue, I'll be passionate about it," Mr. McNeil said.

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