TORONTO — Nearly 11 weeks after they ambled out of the starting blocks, Canada's federal political leaders are positioning themselves for a final two-day sprint with now-familiar refrains on the economy and the middle class.
Polls had suggested Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was enjoying the inside track, but a persistent controversy over the lobbying activities of his now former campaign co-chairman are expected to weigh him down.
Trudeau tried to keep Friday's focus on his core campaign message of help for the middle class. He visited a seniors' residence and highlighted Liberal promises on restoring the eligibility for old age security to 65 and increasing the guaranteed income supplement for single, low-income seniors.
But he couldn't escape the ugly optics of Dan Gagnier and an email that showed the member of Trudeau's inner circle was advising an oil pipeline company on how it ought to approach lobbying a new government.
Trudeau tried to use Gagnier's resignation earlier this week to insist the Liberals are serious about political ethics.
"He acknowledged and assumed the consequences of his actions and stepped down from our campaign," he said.
His rivals, however, were not about to let it go, using the current controversy to remind voters about past Liberal scandals.
"Frankly, there is no other party in this election that is accused of the things the Liberal party and Mr. Gagnier have done," Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said at a campaign stop in Quebec.
"That is for them to answer to. It is the old culture of the sponsorship scandal."
The Liberals tried to deflect some of the flak by circulating information that indicated NDP strategist Brad Lavigne had himself been registered as a lobbyist in Ontario until just three weeks ago.
The Ontario Lobbyist Registry shows Lavigne was arranging meetings for the Canadian Fuel Association and Just East Energy Ontario as late as three weeks ago.
Lavigne, who works for the lobbying firm Hill and Knowlton, insisted Friday that the information on the Ontario registry is a mistake and that he deregistered in May.
He also claimed that the fuel association reference is incorrect and that he only worked for the organization briefly on a short-term contract last year.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair continued his focus on targeting Conservative ridings in the final days of the campaign, as the NDP leader has said the only way to defeat or replace Harper is to win the ridings the Conservatives held at dissolution.
Mulcair took his campaign Friday to Lac-Megantic —Megantic-L'Erable was held by cabinet minister Christian Paradis, but has no incumbent in this election — to highlight the issue of rail safety. The New Democrats would seek to reverse the Conservative-driven trend towards allowing industries with a directimpact on public safety to self-regulate, Mulcair said.
Harper, meanwhile, hammered home his consistent campaign message of low taxes and financial stability to a Quebec audience Friday, telling them the economy is the No. 1 priority.
The province has been a particular focus of Harper's in the waning days of the election, with the Conservative leader also campaigning in the province Thursday and Saturday.
His focus on the economy appeals to voters across the country, but Harper has focused his Quebec message on values issues, such as the decision to appeal a court ruling that struck down a ban on face coverings at citizenship ceremonies.
Nowhere does that position have more support than in Quebec, where his stump speech includes the line, "You want new citizens who join our Canadian family (to do so) with their faces uncovered."
The party is aiming to double their existing seat count from five to 10 in Quebec, hoping to capitalize on apparently slumping NDP fortunes in the province..
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