With time almost run out, and the very future of his party at stake, a besieged Michael Ignatieff is urging Canadians to avoid the call of the Conservative right and the NDP left, and restore Canada's Liberal tradition of government from the centre.
"This country has been governed from the centre for 140 years," the Liberal Leader reminded voters Tuesday. "That's why Canadians have given their confidence to the Liberal Party. They don't want a government of the left. They don't want a government of the right."
Except that the centre appears to be evaporating.
There are only five campaigning days left until Election Day and Stephen Harper's Conservatives appear poised to win the most votes and the most seats on May 2. When Parliament next convenes, Mr. Harper is on track to meet the House as prime minister.
But that's not the news. The news, as everyone must know by now, is that the Bloc Québécois's support in Quebec is plummeting, the NDP is surging there and in other parts of the country, and the Liberals are fighting, according to some polls, to remain the Official Opposition.
And so Mr. Ignatieff sought to reassert what was, until very recently, conventional wisdom.
"If you vote for Mr. Layton, you're going to get a Harper minority government. If you vote for Mr. Duceppe, you're going to get a Harper minority government," he said.
"The only party that can actually replace the Harper government … is the Liberal Party of Canada."
Calling the NDP "a bunch of Boy Scouts," the Liberal Leader lambasted Mr. Layton's demand that Canadian soldiers pull out of Afghanistan immediately. He derided the NDP's internal split over whether to preserve or scrap the gun registry.
And he accused Mr. Layton of promising in Quebec to reopen the Constitution to meet Quebec's concerns, while down-playing the issue elsewhere
"He soft-pedals the constitutional stuff in English, and pushes the pedal down in French," Mr. Ignatieff told reporters.
"You've got to say the same thing in English and French," he told reporters. "You've got to say the same in Quebec as in the rest of Canada."
As for Mr. Harper, he said, voters across the country are sending him the same message: "Throw this guy out. And now's the time to do it."
But polling suggest Mr. Harper will not be thrown out, unless the opposition parties unite to do so. In that case, for Mr. Ignatieff to become prime minister, the Liberals must have substantially more seats than the NDP in the House of Commons. Otherwise, he could find himself being asked to support a minority government led by the second-place NDP under Mr. Layton.
That's a possibility Mr. Ignatieff is not prepared even to discuss.
"If my aunt had a lower voice, would she be my uncle?" he jested, when asked the question. "With the greatest respect, I'm fighting to win the next election."