FREDERICTON — Stephen Harper began his final cross-country campaign trek in the province his family first called home more than 200 years ago, and now hits the road to eventually end up in his political home on Monday.
New Brunswick is where Harper's ancestors first settled upon arriving in Canada and it was where Harper chose to plant the Conservative flag in the Atlantic provinces for a final time during this campaign at a rally on Friday night.
"Monday, every single vote is going to make a difference in the direction of our country and we have got to keep it moving forward," he told hundreds at a home manufacturing plant in Fredericton, his wife and both children in the audience.
He leaves the province Saturday and begins heading west, stopping for an event in Laval, Que., before moving on to Ontario for two rallies in the Toronto-area, one of which is expected to be attended by former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug, the controversial local politicians who've pledged to put the backing of their thousands of supporters behind the Conservatives.
With Rob Ford's admitted drug use, the brothers' very public association with the Conservative campaign, given its staunch anti-drug ideology, has created something of a headache for the party, but one they appear willing to live with.
"Our Conservative Party is a very broad-based party, a big tent if you will, all kinds of supporters across the spectrum," said Bernard Trottier, the Conservative candidate in one of the ridings in the Fords' home town of Etobicoke, Ont.
"And I think he represents the fiscally responsible segment of our electorate and our supporters," he said of Rob Ford.
After Toronto, Harper will eventually land in B.C. for an event there Sunday afternoon, before heading to Calgary, Alta, where he'll cast his ballot Monday morning.
The electoral landscape he'll be travelling is challenging for his party with polls suggesting a surge in Liberal support; on his tour Harper has two goals — make sure his own supporters show up to vote and swing the undecideds his way.
Of the eight seats the Conservatives hold in New Brunswick, at least two are considered to be rock-solid, but the others are competitive, including where Harper held his event Friday night. In Fredericton, incumbent MP Keith Ashfield is under pressure from the Liberals, the NDP and the Greens — they elected only their second-ever member of a provincial legislature in that city.
Still, said Conservative MP and candidate John Williamson, who is running the riding of New Brunswick Southwest, going to the doors is a good experience.
"We don't have to do a lot of tap dancing at the door. We made promises four years ago to balance the books, get rid of the long-gun registry, lower taxes and we did all of that," he said.
Harper has boiled down his campaign message to a simple theme — the Conservatives will give more Canadians more money, the Liberals will take it away, a point illustrated each day by someone called up onto Harper's stage and tossing money on the table in tune with a cash register's bell.
"Anybody who is thinking about voting for real change might want to take a look at our table here," he said Friday night, gesturing at the piles of bills.
"That is not change, that is real money."
Not everyone who will attend one of the rallies Harper will hold this weekend is a confirmed voter, and that demonstration has an impact, said Conservative candidate and incumbent MP Ed Holder.
He said he received several phone calls ahead of an event in his hometown of London, Ont., earlier this week from people who just wanted to come see Harper in person.
Hearing the Conservative message on taxes and economic growth resonates, Holder said.
"He gets to remind them how important that is and they say yes, that matters to me as a family," he said.
The rallies will be backed up by an ad blitz, thousands of phone calls and emails to get out the vote, but then it all comes to a stop Sunday night.
By law, there's no campaigning on election day, so Harper will cast a ballot Monday, and like the rest of the country, wait to see how it all unfolds.
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