When the Liberals unveiled their "Family Pack" platform on Sunday, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper quipped that "Mr. Ignatieff put out the NDP platform today."
Secretly, that might well have been music to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's ears.
The Liberals have determined that they are not going to draw many votes away from the Conservatives--who have been running at, or near, 40% since they were re-elected in 2008.
So they figured their best target for growth would be to steal votes from the NDP. The biggest battleground for that will be in Ontario, where the NDP won 17 of its 37 seats in 2008 and where voter volatility is high compared with other regions.
The NDP's growth in '08 loomed large in Ontario--especially northern Ontario, where they won eight of 10 seats. (In the 2006 election, the Liberals won seven in the North, the NDP won two and the Conservatives had one.)
Over the past week, polls have shown the Liberals' support growing in Ontario at the expense of the NDP, not the Conservatives --who are targeting the Toronto area with a great deal of energy.
NDP Leader Jack Layton was the first party leader to venture north in support of his colleagues. It will be curious to see whether Ignatieff also heads north to try to retake those seats. The outcome of Liberal- NDP voter splits in Ontario and B.C., where the NDP won nine seats in '08, may well be a determining factor in whether the Conservatives win a majority government.
The website threehundredeight.compredicts 154 seats for the Conservatives--exactly half the seats in the House, so one or two ridings could make the difference between a majority and a minority government. (The site predicts 57 Conservatives in Ontario (up from 51), 34 Liberals (down from 38) and 15 for the NDP (down from 17).
The Liberals' platform is not, of course, an NDP platform. But it does follow similar principles--raise taxes on corporations and spend that money on family-friendly programs such as $1 billion for student grants, better Canada Pension Plan benefits, $1 billion for early learning and child care, $1 billion for people who are seriously ill or who are looking after elderly relatives and money for energy-efficient home renovations.
This allows the Conservatives to brand the Liberals as a "tax-and-spend" party. The Liberals counter they won't raise personal taxes, they'll just roll back the corporate tax level to 18% from 16.5%.
That will do well with the NDP crowd. Soft NDP support could drift to the Liberals if they're interested in preventing a majority --which is in the NDP's interest. We may see the emergence of strategic voting, without the publicity pushing for it.
Some New Democrat MPs may also be suffering from their flip-flops on the long-gun registry. This is a national issue gone local. Several Ontario members changed their votes, opting instead to keep the registry in a vote that Layton insists wasn't whipped.
It's questionable whether the gun registry will be a decisive factor in voters' minds. But some NDP members who flipped their vote are clearly struggling with the trust issue: "How can voters trust your word when you've shown that you'll reverse your vote in the party's interest?"
The answers are painfully strained.
Look for the leaders to spend more time in Ontario as the final days of the election nears.