Election campaign's final week sees party leaders digging in
3-way race turning into battle between Tories and Liberals, polls suggest
As the gruelling 78-day federal election campaign enters its last week, the main party leaders are looking to land their final blows to secure victory on Oct. 19.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper repeated a message pushed by Tories on the campaign trail yesterday, warning that a Liberal government's policies would hit Canadians with higher taxes.
The Tory leader asked a local family, the Ropps, to come on stage at the campaign stop at an apple farm in a Conservative-held riding in Waterloo, Ont., to help highlight how Liberal policies would decimate their savings and lighten their pocketbooks.
As Harper went through various Liberal proposals that he claimed would make life more expensive for families — such as boosted costs for child care if an elected Grit government followed through on its pledge to stop sending universal child care benefit cheques to families making more than $200,000 per year — the Ropp family mother dropped stacks of money on the table to the sound of a cash register ringing.
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He said that if all of the proposed Liberal tax policies were implemented, an average middle-class family of five like the Ropps would pay about $8,000 more in various taxes per year.
Harper also repeated previous claims that the Liberal pledge to boost the Canada Pension Plan and employment insurance system would result in what he called higher payroll taxes. Small businesses would be forced to fire workers, growth would be stifled and employees would pay out an additional $1,000 a year for the expanded pension plans, he said.
That amount, according to Harper, would be even higher in Ontario, where Premier Kathleen Wynne initiated the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan after the provincial government found many Ontarians were not saving enough for retirement.
The Tory leader also took a swipe at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's plan to invest $60 billion in infrastructure over the next decade by running what the Grits have called three consecutive "modest" deficits of about $10 billion before balancing the books in the fiscal year 2018-19.
Harper said the deficits would continue to grow until they were permanent, and then Trudeau's government would be forced to abandon promised programs.
'Flat-out untruths,' Trudeau says
The Conservatives' focus on the Liberals under Trudeau comes in the final week of the marathon campaign as polls increasingly suggest the election — long billed as a tight three-way race with the NDP as front-runners — has become a head-to-head match between the Tories and Liberals.
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During a campaign stop in Ottawa this morning, Trudeau kicked off the last week of the campaign with stops in ridings taken by Tories in the 2011 federal election.
He made a pointed appeal to Conservative voters, acknowledging that Tory governments of the past have accomplished great things for Canada.
Harper and his new brand of conservatism, however, has hijacked the party and the values of the average Conservative voter were no longer reflected by Harper's priorities, he said, adding that the Tories are spreading "flat-out untruths in the media."
Among these untruths, he said, was that he would end child-care benefits. Instead, the benefits would be gradually reduced for families with incomes of more than $150,000 and ended entirely for families over $200,000. Child-care benefits would also be tax-free under the Liberal plan.
"We have a prime minister right now who is busy misleading Canadians with untruths," Trudeau told supporters.
"He is desperate to try and frighten Canadians away from voting for a vision that is going to put more money in the pockets of nine out of 10 families and cut taxes for the middle class."
'He got played like a chump'
For his part, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair continued to insist Monday that it remains a three-way election race, telling reporters during a campaign stop in Maple Ridge, B.C., that he doesn't pay attention to polls.
He also continued to declare that the NDP is in a better position to defeat Harper's Conservatives than the Liberals, who are running first or a close second in the polls.
"The NDP only needs 35 more seats to defeat Stephen Harper, the Liberals need at least 100 more to do that," Mulcair said.
Mulcair was to be in both British Columbia and Saskatchewan on Monday, provinces where his party hopes to make gains.
The NDP sees B.C. as an important battleground, where they have tried to frame the election as a fight between New Democrats and the Conservatives.
"Only the NDP can beat the Conservatives here in British Columbia," Mulcair said.
The NDP strategy seems to hinge on making gains in areas where the economy is under strain or has been hammered by globalized trade. Mulcair pointed out that his campaign had swung last week through a vast swath of southwestern Ontario, once the manufacturing heartland of the country.
"Six towns in six Conservative ridings," he said. "You knew and I knew in those ridings the NDP was going to be winning, and everything that's been published since then is proving that."
It's not the first time the party has made the same bet. The NDP concentrated on those same economic hard-luck regions in previous campaigns, only to come up short.
A different dynamic is at play in this campaign with the Conservatives signing the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the NDP has seized upon as a potential lifeline for the campaign.
Throughout his campaign stops over the holiday weekend, Mulcair hammered the "secret" agreement, which he says Harper tripped over himself to achieve before the election.
"Everybody saw him coming. He got played for a chump," he said.
With files from The Canadian Press