OTTAWA – The two federal leaders with the most to lose were keeping their missteps to a minimum today as they scrambled to reach key ridings on the eve of Monday’s vote.
NDP Leader Jack Layton took the uncharacteristic step of cancelling any further news conferences, taking a page from the play book of Conservative rival Stephen Harper.
Anyone wondering why needed only watch Michael Ignatieff.
The Liberal leader, who by all accounts is facing a drubbing on Monday, was peppered with questions about whether he expects to keep his job — an issue he doesn’t want to be wrestling with before ballots have even been cast.
“I want to stay, I want to continue, I want to win this election on the second of May,” Ignatieff said.
“But my fate is not just in my hands. Hey, folks — it’s in the hands of millions of Canadian voters out there, and this election is not over.
“After the election, we see where we are, but in every case my fate is in the hands of democratic institutions. It’s a fact, and it’s a fact I welcome.”
Like Layton, Harper is content to stick to a carefully scripted campaign message at rallies like one today at an elementary school in Stratford, P.E.I., just outside of Charlottetown.
The Conservatives hope to pick up at least one riding on the island, putting former provincial cabinet minister Mike Currie up against longtime Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay.
While he has been focusing his gaze most intently on the fast-closing NDP, Harper took pains to accuse Ignatieff of taking the Liberals away from the party’s traditional roots.
“The best he can now hope for is to be a back-seat passenger in an NDP government,” Harper said.
“A vote for the NDP is not a protest vote. A vote for the NDP is a vote for an NDP government. A vote for a Liberal is now a vote for an NDP government.”
Remarkably, Harper — for so long a victim of strategic voting rhetoric — found himself turning the tables, urging disgruntled Liberals to vote Tory in an effort to thwart the NDP.
“Many of you do not want NDP economic policies, you do not want NDP tax hikes, and to make sure that the next Parliament does not raise taxes, Canada now needs a strong economy and it can get it with a stable Conservative majority.”
Harper’s attempt to woo Liberal voters left Ignatieff in a fighting mood.
“Mr. Harper hates everything the Liberal party stands for. Mr. Harper has no vision for Canada, but he has a very sharp vision for the Conservative party of Canada, which is to try to drive a stake through the heart of the Liberal party,” he said.
“He has not succeeded, he will not succeed, he will never succeed.”
Ignatieff was in Ajax, Ont., one of several bedroom communities ringing Toronto, a part of the country insiders say the Conservatives have high hopes.
By contrast, Layton was sticking to his feel-good winds-of-change script to avoid any surprises, particularly in Quebec, the epicentre of his remarkable march up the polls.
“We have a historic opportunity here, and in fact it began right here in Quebec,” he told a morning rally in Montreal.
“The change begins with a vote. Your vote.”
It’s not uncommon for Harper to stop speaking directly to the media in the final days of a campaign, but it is unprecedented for Layton — a stark illustration of how much is at stake for the NDP as they seek to capitalize on a surge in support in Quebec.
Following today’s morning stop in Montreal, Layton is ending his campaign on home turf in Toronto, with whistle-stops along the way in Kingston, Ont., and Oshawa, Ont.