October 18, 2015 / 1:30 AM / 2 years ago

Canadian contenders battle in final days of election campaign

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau greets supporters during a campaign rally in Saint John, New Brunswick, October 17, 2015. Canadians will go to the polls in a federal election on October 19. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

TORONTO/HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Reuters) - Canada’s political leaders began their final weekend dashes on Saturday before voters decide on Monday whether to grant Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper a rare fourth consecutive mandate after a long and hard-fought campaign.

Harper attended a Toronto rally that was organized in part by controversial former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who admitted to smoking crack during his time in office. Now a city councillor, Ford’s small-government, anti-tax message has kept him popular in parts of Toronto’s vote-rich suburbs.

Harper was introduced by Ford’s brother, Doug, who has said he would consider a Conservative leadership run if Harper left.

“We need to stay strong and we need to re-elect Stephen Harper as prime minister on October 19,” Ford said, adding that it would be an “absolute disaster” if Liberal leader Justin Trudeau became prime minister.

At an earlier rally in Quebec, Harper touted his economic track record and dodged questions about his relationship with the Fords.

The Liberals are leading the Conservatives by as much as 8 percentage points in polls, sitting as high as 38 percent, very close to what is needed to win a majority in Parliament.

“This is going to be a close election,” Trudeau, son of the late former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, told about 1,000 supporters in Halifax, on Canada’s east coast.

“We’re on the verge of accomplishing something big,” he later told reporters.

Thomas Mulcair, leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party, took aim at Trudeau and the ethics of his Liberal team.

Trudeau’s campaign co-chair was forced to resign last week over controversial advice to an energy company on how to lobby a future Liberal government.

The NDP leader, whose party is in third place in polls, likened the situation to a corruption scandal that unfolded in Quebec a decade ago when the Liberals held power.

“This is the crew that was thrown out of office the last time for that very reason, and now they’re saying ‘promise, cross our hearts, we won’t do it again.’ But what we’ve learned is they’re already planning to do it again,” Mulcair said at a rally in British Columbia.

Ipsos pollster Darrell Bricker cautioned, however, that the tradition in Canada is to report all eligible voters, rather than likely voters. An Angus Reid poll on Friday that looked at likely voters put the Liberal lead at only 1 point.

An Ekos poll released on Friday said the Conservatives had a narrow lead among those who had voted in advance polls.

With additional reporting by Josephine Mason, Andrea Hopkins and Jeffrey Hodgson in Toronto; Editing by Paul Simao and Matthew Lewis

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