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Race for votes in stretch

Layton cheered in Toronto; Harper re-announces goodie

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OTTAWA -- Now the action really begins.

The federal party leaders charge into the cut-and-thrust final week of the election campaign today after a docile day of Easter-egg hunts and church services.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who needs to close a big gap with the Conservatives and beat back a resurgent NDP, declared Sunday the campaign has just begun.

He reached out to voters with a 30-minute TV infomercial aimed at helping families gathered for Easter get "up close and personal" with him.

There's Ignatieff the family man sharing photos, Ignatieff the man of the people taking questions at town halls, and Ignatieff the journalist covering the Balkan wars.

Conspicuously absent is Ignatieff the politician, with the Liberal leader highlighting the fact he's not a "career politician" like Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton.

The Liberals have been relatively stagnant in the polls in the first month of the campaign, but Ignatieff brushed off suggestions he's not connecting with voters.

"I just think that in lots of ways, the election has just begun," he said in Toronto. "I think we have got a week in which we choose a government... and so I feel, as we get down to the final, to May 2, this is what it's going to come down to: Who do you trust to govern the country?"

Unfortunately for Ignatieff, if you believe some recent polls, an increasing number of voters trust Layton. At least one poll had the NDP within three percentage points of the Liberals.

Ignatieff and other party leaders have set their sights on Layton, unleashing new attack ads and saying big-budget campaign promises are based on invented revenues.

The NDP leader started the day Sunday with a church service in Toronto, joining members at the front of the church to sing the Hallelujah chorus. He later crossed paths with Ignatieff at a Khalsa Day parade, a huge affair that draws tens of thousands of Sikhs celebrating the birth of their religion in 1699. The two leaders shook hands.

Ignatieff and Conservative Immigration Minister Jason Kenney spoke to the crowd, flanked by their Toronto-area candidates, and both got polite applause from the Queen' Park crowd in downtown Toronto.

But the biggest cheers by far were for Layton. He took the stage in an orange bandana and was greeted by an "NDP! NDP!" chant. One man held a sign that read "Prime Minister Jack Layton."

The New Democrat joked that people were wearing a lot of NDP orange, a traditional colour of celebration for Sikhs.

"On this new year, may you always have happiness," Layton told the crowd.

Harper spent Easter Sunday in British Columbia at a pair of campaign events in Victoria and Vancouver, where the Conservatives are trying to hold on to vulnerable ridings.

The prime minister re-announced a children's arts tax credit -- for the fourth time, by some media counts -- at a suburban home on a Victoria cul-de-sac.

Harper and wife Laureen helped paint and decorate eggs with about a dozen youngsters before he took the proceedings back outside for the re-announcement.

Harper was asked whether Canadians are prepared to trust him with the unfettered power that comes with a parliamentary majority.

"We always say in all these elections in a democratic ethos, voters are never supposed to give absolute trust to anybody," he replied.

He then added: "The choice is obvious: to trust the government that is leading Canada on the right track."

Harper was asked about a recent spate of vandalism against Liberal signs and property owners.

"I'll just tell you we suffer acts of vandalism and these sorts of things as well," he said. "None of them are acceptable. They should not happen in a campaign."

Party officials later circulated a list of media reports of various vandalism against Conservative signs.

Ignatieff also condemned the vandalism: "This is not my Canada and I'm sure this is not the Canada of any of the political parties. We find it a disgrace and we hope it stops."

Harper ended his campaign day attending an Easter service at a Chinese church in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. It was his third visit to the city since the start of the campaign.

His campaign was sideswiped Saturday after it was revealed a Tory candidate in Vancouver attended an event hosted by Ripudaman Singh Malik, acquitted of criminal charges in the 1985 Air India bombings.

The Tory candidate, Wai Young, said she had no warning Malik would be at the event at a local school and would not have gone had she known.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2011 A4

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