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Leaders go beyond the beltway as election enters final stretch

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen sit to sample Arctic char and bison cooked on a campfire during a campaign stop in Yellowknife.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

The election may be won or lost in suburban ridings around Toronto or Vancouver, but the federal parties are devoting this crucial second-last week of the campaign to ridings far from the city lights.

With Passover, Easter, the Stanley Cup and the royal wedding threatening to distract voters from election matters, victory in heavily populated areas could depend on which party is better able to dominate in local campaign organization and television advertising - not on big-ticket appearances by party leaders, who are spending time beyond the beltway.

The Conservatives: Off the highways

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With the Conservatives only 12 seats shy of a majority government, every riding counts. And so Stephen Harper is travelling northwest to east in opposition-held ridings that lack freeways, where that elusive 12th seat may well be found.

After starting the week in Yellowknife - the heart of the NDP-held Western Arctic riding, where the Conservatives promised to complete the final 140 kilometres of the Dempster Highway that will link Inuvik with Tuktoyuktuk - Mr. Harper flew east to Thunder Bay, Ontario, where NDP-held Thunder Bay Rainy River and Thunder Bay-Superior North could both be up for grabs.

Here Mr. Harper stressed his party's opposition to the gun registry, the mere mention of which ensures lusty boos at Conservative rallies, while promising $100-million for brain research at the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute.

Then if was off to Val D'Or, Quebec, for a Tuesday-evening rally in the riding of Abitibi, Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, a rare Bloc Quebecois seat that the Tories believe could be vulnerable.

After overnighting in Riviere du Loup, where the Conservatives won a by-election in 2009 that they hope to retain, the campaign moves on to Atlantic Canada, where Mr. Harper will be making stops in winnable ridings in Newfoundland, Cape Breton and New Brunswick.

The Conservatives maintain that their ground game is better organized and better resourced than their Liberal and NDP opponents in the key urban battlegrounds. And they have already made the ad buys that, they say, will ensure anyone turning on a television in Ajax-Pickering or Vancouver South will hear the Tory message in the final week of the campaign.

The Liberals: Go East

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The Ignatieff tour is following a similar trajectory to that of their Conservative rivals. Both leaders were in B.C. on Sunday, both leaders were in Yellowknife Monday and both are heading east for the rest of the week.

After a Tuesday-evening rally in Brampton - an area that will be watched closely on election night - Mr. Ignatieff heads to Saint John, followed by a rally in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

He's also expected to visit Prince Edward Island in the coming days, capping off a week in which he will have visited nine provinces and one territory.

The NDP: Country meet city

Jack Layton's cross-country tour has been targeting specific ridings, many of them rural, since the beginning of the campaign and party officials say that strategy will continue until election day.

On Tuesday, for instance, the NDP Leader was in Welland, in the Niagara Peninsula, where incumbent New Democrat Malcolm Allen is in a tough fight with both his Liberal and Conservative opponents.

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On Wednesday, Mr. Layton will be in Essex, near Windsor, Ont., where the party believes Conservative MP Jeff Watson is vulnerable.

But the NDP's sites are on suburban and urban seats as well as those in agricultural areas and in the North.

Mr. Layton intends to spend at least some of the time before May 2 in Toronto, for instance, where there are a number of ridings along the Bloor subway line - Parkdale and Davenport and Beaches-East York - that are especially coveted by the New Democrats.

And, just as the NDP has done from the outset, they will be buying targeted ads - especially on radio - in areas visited by the national campaign that speak to local issues.

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About the Authors

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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