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Strategy time: What the Liberals need to do to win

Political watchers say that in order to win the election, the Liberals need to convince undecided progressive voters that they, and not the NDP, are best positioned to unseat Stephen Harper.

Tout themselves as the party to replace Harper, say experts

This story is the third in a series on what political strategists say each of the main political parties needs to do to win the election. Today, it's the Liberals; yesterday, it was the NDP; and tomorrow it's the Conservatives.


At the outset of this election campaign, expectations for the Liberals were fairly low.

The party had only 36 seats, they were polling third and their leader, Justin Trudeau, was untested in the crucible of a campaign trail.

But with one week to go before voting day, the Liberals are neck and neck with the Conservatives for the lead, according to several polls, and may even be allowing themselves to fantasize about a majority victory.

Political watchers say that in order to win the election, the Liberals need to convince undecided progressive voters that they, and not the NDP, are best positioned to unseat Stephen Harper.

When a particular voter is looking to change the government and doesn't have established loyalties to one party, "the perception that one of the opposition parties is surging, or at least getting ahead of the other opposition party, that can play a significant role in moving opinion," says Claude Denis, a political science professor at the University of Ottawa.

This is the position the Liberals find themselves in today.

According to the latest Poll Tracker figures, the Liberals hold 32.9 per cent support, followed by the Conservatives at 32.4 per cent and the NDP at 24.3.

The NDP's wilting polling numbers — especially in their stronghold of Quebec — coupled with Trudeau's rising approval ratings appear to have given the Liberals added momentum.

Appealing to undecided voters, the Liberals are likely to promote the message that they are the better strategic choice than the NDP, says Denis.

In particular, they need to promote that idea in the Greater Toronto Area, and, as much as possible, in Quebec, says poll analyst Eric Grenier.

Deficit financing

Liberal polling has been looking good in the GTA, and one of the reasons may be Trudeau's pledge to run budget deficits in order to invest in infrastructure and stimulate the economy.

It's one part of the Liberal platform that distinguishes the party from the NDP, and it strikes a chord with Ontarians, says Elly Alboim, a political consultant and head of strategic communications at Earnscliffe Strategy Group in Ottawa.

Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne ran on a similar promise to gain power in Ontario in 2014, Alboim says, "and it's no secret that a lot of the people that worked with her are working with Trudeau."

Quebec, though, might be a tougher nut to crack, says Grenier.

The Liberals are strong in anglophone-heavy ridings in and around Montreal, but support is slimmer in francophone ridings, particular around Quebec City and the Saguenay region, where the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois have been polling well.

In Quebec, the Liberals also share the NDP's problem vis-à-vis the niqab debate, in that both parties support the right to wear facial coverings during citizenship ceremonies, while 93 per cent of Quebecers do not.

But the Liberals could nonetheless try to exploit anti-Harper sentiment in Quebec if they can show that they hold the momentum, says Grenier.

"They can make inroads if they say, 'Get on board, because we're going to kick out Harper,'" says Grenier. "I think that's where they can pick up some support in Quebec. I think that's really the only hand they have among francophones" there as well.

Still, it will not be not enough for the Liberals merely to take NDP seats, says Alice Funke, publisher of PunditsGuide.ca, a site that analyzes data on ridings.

Because that simply splits seats between the Liberals and NDP and doesn't put a dent in the Conservatives' total.

To win, she says, the Liberals actually have to take ridings that are currently held by Conservatives.

"If they can't take seats away from Conservatives, [Trudeau] won't be prime minister," says Funke.

B.C., maybe Alberta?

Funke says the Liberals are gunning for seats in the north shore of Vancouver and Vancouver South, a few in Calgary and would be interested in grabbing a couple in Edmonton, where they have had representation before.

The party would no doubt also like to turn a few of the Conservative seats in the suburban ring around Toronto, the famous 905 region.

This could be challenging, however, because many ethnic and small-c conservative voters there are uncomfortable with Ontario's new sex-education curriculum and could punish the federal Liberals for it, says Funke.

Alboim says that this late in the campaign, voting decisions are often made on impressions of which leader would make the best prime minister.

And if Trudeau can continue to radiate confidence, he may be able to convince a significant number of centre-right voters that he is the right man for the times.

"The who's-the-best-PM question has steadily and consistently shown improvement in [Trudeau's] numbers and a diminishing in the gap between him and Harper," says Alboim. "And you have to move those attributes before you can move vote choice."

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