Televised debate a key test for Liberals

Tue Apr 12, 2011 8:04am EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A prime-time televised debate on Tuesday could make or break the election campaign for the Liberals, which need a strong showing from leader Michael Ignatieff to have a chance in what is now a lopsided race.

The two-hour English-language debate -- which in the last election was watched by around 40 percent of Canadians -- is a chance for the former academic to shake off Conservative attack ads portraying him as elitist and out of touch.

Ignatieff's party badly trails the Conservatives, who have been in power since early 2006 and are seeking a third consecutive victory in the May 2 election.

"Michael Ignatieff probably needs a knockout in this to really, really change things ... at the very least I think he has got to surprise the electorate," said Allan Gregg of polling firm Harris Decima.

The debate between Ignatieff, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the leaders of two smaller opposition parties starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and is particularly important, since English is Canada's most widely spoken language.

A debate in French -- Canada's other official language -- will start at the same time on Wednesday.

Ignatieff said he has drawn inspiration from South African golfer Charl Schwartzel, who emerged from the pack to win the Masters championship in Augusta, Georgia, on Sunday.

"This great young South African guy just had nerves of steel and so we're going to need nerves of steel Tuesday night," he told reporters on Monday.   Continued...

<p>Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff prepares to speak to the media during a campaign stop in Ottawa April 11, 2011. REUTERS/Blair Gable</p>