VAUGHAN, Ont. - Premier Dalton McGuinty was playing it safe Tuesday as the Ontario election campaign neared its end, reading to kids in Cambridge, serving up pizza to Liberal supporters in Bolton and urging on party faithful at a rally in Pickering.
All while he was saying very little that could hurt his chances for re-election.
With a new poll suggesting the Liberals are surging ahead of the Progressive Conservatives in advance of Thursday's vote, McGuinty's campaign days seem surprisingly light and tightly scripted.
When the Liberal leader took questions from reporters at a hotel in Vaughan, north of Toronto, he gave virtually the same answer regardless of the question: with economic storm clouds gathering, this is not the time for Ontario voters to change leaders.
"There’s a lot at stake here," said McGuinty.
"There is tremendous uncertainty to be found in the global economy. As we turn and face that challenge, it’s pretty important to have someone at the tiller who brings a strong, steady measured hand."
A new poll released Tuesday evening showed the Liberals at 41 per cent support with the Tories at 31 per cent and the NDP at 25 per cent.
The Ipsos Reid survey, conducted for Global News, CFRB NewsTalk 1010 and the Ottawa Citizen, is a shift from earlier polls that suggested a possible minority government, a scenario McGuinty has dismissed.
"I’m after as many seats, as much support, as many MPPs as we can have in order to form a strong, stable, Liberal government," he said.
"Now’s the time for us to stare into those (economic) headwinds with strength and with experience."
McGuinty also ducked questions about the Liberals having the positive momentum while the Conservatives seem to be struggling in the final week of the campaign, and laughed off the fact that Tory Leader Tim Hudak had signed a pledge Tuesday in McGuinty's Ottawa-South riding not to raise taxes.
The Liberals have already pledged not to raise taxes if they are re-elected, but the Tories will force towns and cities to raise property taxes by cancelling Liberal plans to upload services from municipalities, said McGuinty.
"My concern with Mr. Hudak is his solemn commitment to raise property taxes by $500 million," he said.
"The last PC government downloaded $3 billion in new costs onto property taxes. We’ve uploaded $2.7 billion so far."
Hudak said McGuinty should have signed the tax pledge.
"Dalton McGuinty has a chance today to actually stand up, to sign the exact same pledge that I just signed, to say that under no circumstances will he agree to an NDP tax hike demand," said Hudak.
"I bet Dalton McGuinty won't sign that because he plans to use the NDP as an excuse to say they forced his hand and then bring in another tax increase on families."
Meanwhile, McGuinty touted a Forbes magazine report that ranks Canada as the best country for business, crediting in part the introduction of the controversial harmonized sales tax in Ontario and British Columbia.
Introduced in Ontario by McGuinty's Liberals, the HST has been a campaign issue with both the opposition Conservatives and New Democrats promising changes to the tax, saying they will remove it from certain bills.
The controversial tax was recently repealed in B.C.
McGuinty and his wife Terri began the day reading to Grade 2 students at Our Lady of Fatima school in Cambridge, which has a special program designed to encourage boys to read more.
The Liberals wanted to remind voters that test scores and graduation rates are up while class sizes are down. Liberal strategists are also confident they can take Cambridge from the Progressive Conservatives on Thursday, noting they were close in 2007.
The Liberal leader's campaign has been up and down Highway 401 in the past month, and spent a lot of time in ridings around Toronto, many of which switched to the Tories in last May's federal election.
McGuinty has made only one trip to northern Ontario since Labour Day, and skipped the northern leaders debate in Thunder Bay, leading to speculation the Liberals may be in trouble in the north.