05/21/2015 05:46 EDT | Updated 05/21/2016 05:59 EDT

Pre-election travels of main party leaders reveal hopes and fears

The federal election campaign may be months away officially, but Canada's main party leaders are already criss-crossing the country in dress rehearsals that can tell Canadians a lot about their hopes and fears.

It's early days yet, but already some patterns are emerging from their travels.

Only one leader so far – Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau — has visited Canada's North, making three stops in a five-day tour, suggesting a strategy to challenge to Conservative Stephen Harper's repeated emphasis on northern sovereignty since coming to power in 2006. Harper traditionally visits the North in August.

The NDP's Tom Mulcair has made numerous stops in the party's power base of Quebec, venturing into smaller centres that don't figure in the Montreal-Quebec City itineraries favoured to date by the other parties. Mulcair may be attempting to cement the party's breakthrough ridings in that province, which sent many wet-behind-the-ears MPs to Ottawa in 2011. Recent polls show the party has rebounded in the province following several months of stagnation.

Strikingly, the Green party's Elizabeth May — whose riding is Saanich-Gulf Islands — has saturated Vancouver Island with campaign-style stops, where recent polls suggest the party has a shot at adding one and maybe more federal seats. She has also made time for the Maritimes, including Nova Scotia, where she once failed to win a seat.

The travel analysis is done using CBC News' interactive tool — called the Leader Tracker — that allows voters to trace the travels and pseudo-campaign events of each of the main national leaders, dating back to Jan. 1 and continuing until the expected election date of Oct. 19. The map includes thumbnail sketches of what happened at each event, as well as riding boundaries.

The tool shows all party leaders have made frequent visits to the vote-rich Greater Toronto Area, no surprise there, where capturing the suburban 905 vote may be crucial to forming a majority.

No stops in Newfoundland

No leader so far has made a stop in Newfoundland and Labrador, with its seven seats, though no national campaign would leave out this latecomer to Confederation.

Mulcair so far has skipped two Western provinces, Alberta and Manitoba, perhaps surprising as they're the only two currently governed by New Democrats.

During the recent Alberta election campaign, NDP leader Rachel Notley made clear she had not communicated with Mulcair and takes her cues only from Albertans, perhaps an effort to avoid any polarizing effect the federal leader may bring to pipeline and energy policies. Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, meanwhile, has been embroiled in cabinet defections and controversy over a sales-tax hike, perhaps making the province a place for the federal leader to skip, at least for now.

Harper's travels, aided by access to a government jet for use in his role as prime minister, have taken him to all provinces except Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, generally stopping at big population centres.

Mix of government and party

However, last week Harper was in Nova Scotia to re-announce some infrastructure funding included in the federal budget. He used the opportunity, with his wife Laureen, to bolster MP Scott Armstrong's candidacy for re-election in rural Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley. Harper, who is in Montreal Thursday, is expected to mix partisan politics and government announcements in the months to come as well.

And as in all federal campaigns, the leaders' travel itineraries will be driven by party polling closer to the election date. The surveys can better reveal which ridings are in play in the heat of an actual campaign — and which could be tipped by a strategic appearance.

Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was once pilloried by the late Jack Layton for the time he spent out of the House of Commons and on the road trying to stir up support from Canadians.

But that was before Canada's first fixed-date election this October, which has significantly changed the dynamics of the pre-writ period.

No leader now wants to cede the field to rivals in the countdown to the official election call. And at least two leaders, Harper and Trudeau, are leaving their seats empty in the Commons more often as they tend to unofficial campaign road shows. With the Commons scheduled to rise on June 23, if not earlier, even that modest constraint will be gone.

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