POLITICS

Stephen Harper's Campaign Focuses On Pitch, Not Pace In Final Week Of Race

10/13/2015 10:55 EDT | Updated 10/13/2016 05:12 EDT

LONDON, Ont. — As the Conservatives seek to hold on to votes, Stephen Harper's strategy is all about convincing Canadians to hold on to their wallets.

But as his rivals quicken their campaign pace in the final week, Harper is sticking to his strategy of a single, so-called "message event" in the morning and a rally at night.

From the outset, the Conservative campaign has argued that their focus is not on the high-profile rallies covered by the national media, but on the ground game playing out in all 338 ridings in the country.

That hasn't changed, even now, campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke said Tuesday.

"It's all about ground game and localizing our vote at this point, that's what our focus is," Teneycke said.

Teneycke said the volunteers who often fill rally rooms are better off spending their time during the days on that ground game, but hundreds put aside door knocking for a night Tuesday to attend Harper's rally in London at a packaging warehouse. Similar crowds have been present at other, though not all, evening events.

Campaign wisdom holds that while individual candidates can work as hard as they want, they are often only responsible for 10 to 15 per cent of the vote and it's the energy generated by the national tour that drives the rest.

Tuesday morning's event was in the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore — a highly symbolic district as it's where former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff lost his seat in 2011, driving the final nail in his party's coffin that year.

Conservative Bernard Trottier, who was the victor, said nothing should be read into the relatively small crowd that showed up for Tuesday morning's event. On a weekday morning, most people need to go to work, he said.

Trottier said as he goes door-to-door, people are receptive to the message that they would suffer economically under the Liberal plan to run deficits.

"People are very concerned. They know you just can't kick the can down the road, people understand that."

Even so, while Harper's campaign pace hasn't changed, his pitch has — a result, no doubt, of polls that suggest the Liberals have been enjoying increased support of late.

The Conservative stump speech is all about the potential Liberal impact on the economy, jobs and the bottom line for voters. It also features a game-show-style stunt complete with a party supporter counting off dollar bills to the sound of a ringing cash register as Harper tallies up the cost of foregone Tory tax cuts and benefits.

Tuesday's theme was the risk the Conservatives say the Liberals pose for small business; Harper focused on pizza shop owner Dino Ari and how his business would be hurt by Liberal changes to the Canada Pension Plan and EI premiums.

The Liberal philosophy can be explained in a simple phrase, Harper said: "You make it, they take it and they spend it."

He repeated that exercise at Tuesday evening's event.

While Tuesday's message was about the Liberals' economic plan, comments made by a Conservative candidate last week that the Liberals want to have marijuana sold in corner stores and legalize the selling of women for sex also surfaced.

Terence Young made the remarks during his closing statement at an all-candidates debate in Oakville, Ont., last week and clips from the debate surfaced on social media Tuesday.

The Liberals do not have a policy calling for the legalization of prostitution and their position on marijuana is that it needs to be regulated and controlled like alcohol and tobacco. Trudeau said earlier in the campaign selling it at corner stores was not currently part of that plan.

Harper spent longer than usual Tuesday night shaking hands with some of the people at his rally, also posing for selfies with young supporters before heading into a private reception room for more meet-and-greets.

Earlier Tuesday he had a similar backstage encounter with Toronto city councillor and ex-mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug, a former councillor, who attended the morning event.

Introduced as "two great sons of Etobicoke Centre," one of the ridings around Tuesday's event, their presence was identified by the campaign as a reflection of broader support, the people who make up the so-called Ford Nation of conservative voters around the Toronto area.

Harper met both brothers backstage, but did not interact with them during the rally.

Doug Ford said if he'd wanted to, Harper could have filled the William F. White sound stages with thousands of people. It's not the size of the rallies that matter, he argued, but the message.

"As far as I saw out there, when we're door-knocking out in Scarborough, those people understand the difference between taxing and putting money in your pocket," he said.

Wednesday, Harper is scheduled to hold an event in Brantford, Ont., followed by an evening rally in the Toronto area.

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