CORNWALL, Ont. - Though the Liberals' dream of a third consecutive majority seems increasingly under threat, Premier Dalton McGuinty is denying his campaign has been dealt a major blow by a high-profile federal endorsement of his Tory rival.
Taking the stage at rallies in Cornwall and Ottawa on Saturday, McGuinty acknowledged that federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's show of support for Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak was a significant development.
But he brushed off any suggestion it might undermine his chances on Thursday _ and dismissed all talk of forming a minority government.
"I don't think Ontarians like being told what to do," McGuinty said. "I think Ontarians have a mind of their own."
After working with three different prime ministers, McGuinty said on Saturday that it's no secret Ottawa wants a premier who can be pushed around.
"The problem that they have with me is I don't fit that job description," he told a crowd of cheering supporters in Cornwall.
"The problem we have with Mr. Hudak is that he does."
With just a few days to go in a campaign that has left the Liberals neck-and-neck with the Progressive Conservatives, both camps are scrambling for the slightest advantage that could tip the scales in their favour.
Attacks over taxes and health-care funding have failed to propel either party to a comfortable lead, while any gaffes and scandals have largely fizzled out.
Flaherty, who worked with Hudak in the Tory administrations of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, had previously vowed not to meddle in the provincial election but couldn't resist stepping in to promote a Tory trifecta.
He told a Toronto business crowd Hudak is the only one who can take the province on a new path, echoing his former colleague's push for change in the provincial legislature.
But Hudak's close ties to the federal Conservatives could prove to be a double-edged sword as his opponents question whether he'll stand up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Having the two Tory leaders work together would lead to "double the cuts," particularly in health care, McGuinty suggested earlier this week.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath accused Hudak of being all talk when it comes to fighting the harmonized sales tax, despite making pocketbook relief a key plank in his platform.
"There's a lot of noise at Queen's Park, but no action when we need to confront Ottawa," Horwath said at a campaign stop in Kingsville.
"Very noisy in the legislature, really against the HST, but quiet as a mouse when it comes to talking to his federal leader Mr. Harper and his good friend Mr. Flaherty."
Over the course of the campaign, McGuinty has painted himself as Ontario's champion, the only leader willing to defend the province's interests in Ottawa.
It's a message the Liberals will be hammering home in a new TV ad set to hit the air in the next few days.
The 30-second ad, which has been released on YouTube, accuses the Tories and their leader of kowtowing to their federal cousins.