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Anti-Harper attack ads raise stakes as Liberals try to 'shake up' electorate

1. Game on. The Liberals have unleashed two new attack ads aimed at contrasting Michael Ignatieff with Stephen Harper as they enter the third phase of their election advertising campaign.

The ads - one on health care and the other on the Conservative Leader's demands for a majority government - suggest to Canadians the "stakes are too high" to risk their vote on the Tories.

"Stephen Harper is demanding more time in power," a female narrator says, over ominous music, in the second ad. "More tax cuts for big banks and oil companies; less protection for the environment, massive cuts to healthcare."

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It ends, "The stakes are too high. Vote Liberal."

That ad was launched on Saturday night during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The health-care ad, meanwhile, was unveiled last week. It accuses Mr. Harper of having a "risky plan" to cut $11-billion from government spending, suggesting this could be at the expense of medicare.

It has drawn the ire of the Conservatives. In a memo to her troops over the weekend, Tory campaign manager Jenni Byrne called the Liberals "desperate" and said they were "fear-mongering to rescue their floundering campaign."

"You will have noticed that Michael Ignatieff no longer talks about his policies. Having abandoned a positive campaign, the Liberals now focus exclusively on mudslinging and attacks," she wrote.

But a senior Liberal official said the party strategy dating back six months ago was to launch these attack ads at this particular phase in the campaign - "whether we were 10 points up or 10 points down," he told The Globe.

The Liberals are hoping that "going hard on [the Tories]rdquo; will "shake up" the electorate and help expand Mr. Ignatieff's base. So far, however, nothing has moved the national poll numbers.

The first phase of the Grit ad strategy was aimed at introducing and "re-introducing" Mr. Ignatieff to Canadian voters. That was followed by a series of ads promoting the Liberal platform, including the so-called Family Pack, which is a number of planks supporting middle-class families through home care and education funding.

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The fourth phase of the ad strategy will be aimed solely at getting out the Liberal vote, in particular trying to compel the 800,000 Liberals, who stayed home in the 2008 campaign, to cast a ballot on May 2.

2. Exit, stage left. In the 2008 campaign, there was nary a peep out of the Conservative incumbent candidate in Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke Cheryl Gallant.

The often outspoken and controversial MP, who has tried to keep a low profile over the past few years, is attracting attention again - this time for storming out of a live radio all-candidates' debate, charging that the Green Party candidate had not been invited.

Ms. Gallant, who was first elected in the Ottawa Valley riding in 2000, was criticized for missing most of the all-candidates' meetings in the 2008 election. This time she appeared - briefly - but managed to avoid any questions by her behaviour.

According to a report Pembroke's Daily Observer, Ms. Gallant said: "In my four elections previous, I have never participated in a candidate meeting where a candidate had been barred, and I'm not going to start now."

The article described what happened next: "Then before a surprised crowd, she stood from her chair, removed her microphone, and left the building."

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She accused the organizers of the event of not acting in the "best interests of democracy." But the organizers said the Green Party candidate had been invited and had missed the deadline to accept. There were some suggestions Ms. Gallant was deliberately trying to avoid tough questions, and that her campaign may be in trouble.

Earlier this year, Ms. Gallant had to apologize after she said that Newfoundlanders, who make their living from the sea, should be more responsible for their own safety and not expect to be rescued by the Coast Guard if they run into problems.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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