Expect Conservative and Liberal 'knife fight' in final 2 weeks of campaign

The Conservatives and Liberals may very well focus most of their firepower on each other with two weeks left in the campaign, all but ignoring the NDP which continues to see its support dwindling.

As Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau square off, Tom Mulcair may be squeezed out

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair are heading into the final two weeks of the election campaign, but it seems Trudeau and Harper have pulled ahead. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The Conservatives and Liberals may very well focus most of their firepower on each other with two weeks left in the campaign, all but ignoring the NDP, which continues to see its support dwindling.

"What [Justin] Trudeau's team is trying to do, what Trudeau is trying to do, is look at who they would deem is their prime competition, which is the prime minister," said Conservative strategist Jason Lietaer. "Likewise, you won't see the prime minister mentioning [Tom] Mulcair very much from now on until the end."

The Conservative and Liberal battleground is well known — the Greater Toronto Area and Lower Mainland of B.C., Lietaer said, and both parties "will be throwing everything they've got" into those two areas, trying to drive home their message to Canadians.

"I expect there to be a very clear choice presented by both the Liberals and the Conservatives over the next two weeks about what the various options are. At the very end of this, there's very likely to be either Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And I think both of them won't shy away from, in their own way, presenting that choice."

The Liberals have already launched five new ads, which they say "contrast Stephen Harper's failed leadership with Justin Trudeau's positive vision for an economy that works for everyone."

This means we should expect a second life for the "just not ready" ads the Tories have used against Trudeau.

"If the conversation begins to shift towards, 'Might the Liberals form a government?' it will give a new credibility to those who say, 'Do you want to make Justin Trudeau your prime minister?' said Scott Reid, political strategist and former senior adviser to Paul Martin. "It may be that voters will say yes. He's going to have to pass that test in the sharpest possible way."

With Ontario, again, the focal point of the election, expect to see  "a real knife fight between the Liberals and the Conservatives" in the 905 [area], Kitchener-Waterloo, urban and suburban areas of the province over the next 14 days, Reid said.

'Some momentum' for the Liberals

"Don't think the Tories aren't very potent, and look very potent, in Ontario," Reid said. 

While the Liberals have momentum, it's only "some momentum," Reid said, and Trudeau will be the focus of attacks from all sides.

"They need to keep the focus on change, change, change and their economic message."

On the economy, the Conservatives will be more than happy to let that issue become the narrative in the remainder of the campaign, especially after securing a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The economy is also an issue in which they believe Harper has a distinctive advantage over Trudeau, and it's expected to be the focus of their ads in the final stretch.

But the Liberals believe they have built a good case for themselves as the best stewards for the economy. Trudeau will continue to pound away on  his central message — tax cuts for the middle class, tax hikes for the wealthiest and the need to run three consecutive deficits in order to invest in badly needed infrastructure.

Lietaer said the Tories will continue to emphasize security, which includes issues like the mission against ISIS,   the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act tip line, revocation of citizenship for convicted terrorists and the niqab ban.

NDP under pressure

And where does this leave the NDP? Slightly squeezed out, it would seem.

CBC News has already reported that the party will be buying more broadcast ads in an attempt to reverse its recent sag in the polls. The party has already launched a new series of negative ads against Trudeau, in an attempt to demonstrate Mulcair would be the stronger leader.

But the NDP has also positioned itself as the party opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and is trying to use the deal as a springboard to consolidate left-wing support and fight back, said Lietaer,

NDP strategist Shay Purdy said the party, which came second with 102 seats in the last election, will also be using ad buys to target seats in places like downtown Toronto, southwestern Ontario, Edmonton, Vancouver and the B.C Interior.

But over the next two weeks, all the leaders' tours are going to be into overdrive, with more targeted advertising buys, Purdy said.

"It's been a long campaign and an expensive one. So you can be a lot more efficient with advertising by focusing on your target regions and target growth seats."

"All three parties have saved up and kept their powder dry for the last final two-week blitz," added Toronto-based political strategist Marcel Wieder. "And they're going to saturate the air waves, on TV, on radio, online and whatever forms they can to get their message out."


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