TORONTO — As the Conservatives seek to hold on to votes, Stephen Harper’s strategy is all about convincing Canadians to hold on to their wallets.
But as his rivals quicken their campaign pace in the final week, Harper is sticking to one so−called “message event” a day, often in cavernous warehouses with fewer than 200 people, many linked to the host or the local candidate.
From the outset, the Conservative campaign has argued that their focus is not on the high−profile rallies covered by the national media, but on the ground game playing out in all 338 ridings in the country.
That hasn’t changed, even now, campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke said Tuesday.
“It’s all about ground game and localizing our vote at this point, that’s what our focus is,” Teneycke said.
A rally is scheduled for Tuesday night in London, Ont., where organizers are hoping for a solid turnout to back candidates in that region.
Campaign wisdom holds that while individual candidates can work as hard as they want, they are often only responsible for 10 to 15 per cent of the vote and it’s the energy generated by the national tour that drives the rest.
Tuesday morning’s event was in the riding of Etobicoke−Lakeshore — a highly symbolic district as it’s where former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff lost his seat in 2011, driving the final nail in his party’s coffin that year.
Conservative Bernard Trottier, who was the victor, said nothing should be read into the relatively small crowd that showed up for Tuesday’s event — on a weekday morning, most people need to go to work, he said.
Trottier said as he goes door−to−door, people are receptive to the message that they would suffer economically under the Liberal plan to run deficits.
“People are very concerned. They know you just can’t kick the can down the road, people understand that.”
Even so, while Harper’s campaign pace hasn’t changed, his pitch has — a result, no doubt, of polls that suggest the Liberals have been enjoying increased support of late.
The Conservative stump speech is all about the potential Liberal impact on the economy, jobs and the bottom line for voters. It also features a game−show−style stunt complete with a party supporter counting off dollar bills to the sound of a ringing cash register as Harper tallies up the cost of foregone Tory tax cuts and benefits.
Tuesday’s theme was the risk the Conservatives say the Liberals pose for small business; Harper focused on pizza shop owner Dino Ari and how his business would be hurt by Liberal changes to the Canada Pension Plan and EI premiums.
The Liberal philosophy can be explained in a simple phrase, Harper said: “You make it, they take it and they spend it.”
The crowd was clearly delighted by the messaging but also excited about the presence of two high−profile supporters at the event: Toronto city councillor and ex−mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug, a former councillor.
Introduced as “two great sons of Etobicoke Centre,” one of the ridings around Tuesday’s event, their presence was identified by the campaign as a reflection of broader support, the people who make up the so−called Ford Nation of conservative voters around the Toronto area.
Harper met both brothers backstage, but did not interact with them during the rally.
Doug Ford said if he’d wanted to, Harper could have filled the William F. White sound stages with thousands of people — it’s not the size of the rallies that matter, he argued, but the message.
“As far as I saw out there, when we’re door−knocking out in Scarborough, those people understand the difference between taxing and putting money in your pocket,” he said.
Another candidate alongside the prime minister Tuesday was Ted Opitz, who won the riding of Etobicoke Centre in 2011 by only a handful of votes, triggering a judicial review that ended up in front of the Supreme Court of Canada, which ultimately upheld Opitz’s victory.
Wednesday, Harper is scheduled to hold an event in Brantford, Ont., followed by an evening rally in the Toronto area.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version described Doug Ford as a current city councillor.