RICHMOND HILL, Ontario (Reuters) - Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a direct pitch on Saturday to centrist Liberal voters whose party has been swamped by a late campaign surge of the New Democratic Party.
Harper’s plan to win a majority of seats in Parliament in Monday’s elections counts on the Liberals and NDP splitting the vote on the left of Canada’s political spectrum and then winning over centrist Liberals worried that the left-leaning New Democrats will gain too much power.
Conservatives currently have a minority government.
“A vote for the Liberals is a vote for an NDP government,” Harper told a small rally near Toronto.
It was the first time he has made such a direct pitch since the Liberals began a slide in opinion polls midway in the five-week campaign.
Polls show the Conservatives with a comfortable lead going into Monday’s elections, but short of what they would likely need to win a majority that does not need some opposition party support to stay in power. New Democrats are in second and Liberals in third place in the polls.
Harper said a re-elected Conservative government would unveil its budget later this spring, but was not more specific about the date. If the Conservatives do not win a majority government, the budget could trigger another election if opposition parties do not support it.
The Conservatives’ campaign plan had initially focused on bashing the Liberals, their traditional main rival, but they have been forced to retool with the jump in NDP support that has surprised most political pundits.
The New Democrats have never governed Canada. Harper’s stump speeches now frame the race as a choice between a Conservative government that would ensure stability and a NDP-led minority government that would hurt the economy.
A sign of the Liberals’ fallen fortunes was the Toronto Star newspaper’s endorsement on Saturday of the New Democrats. Canada’s largest newspaper is traditionally pro-Liberal, but urged readers to vote for the NDP to prevent a Conservative majority.
The NDP’s rise has been fueled by voter disenchantment with the other parties, including the separatist Bloc Quebecois in Quebec, and the charismatic style of its leader Jack Layton, who performed well in the leadership debates.
Layton was campaigning on Saturday in British Columbia on the Pacific coast, where the party hopes to take seats from the Conservatives.
The spring budget vote would be a key test for the Conservatives if they fail to win a majority since they would need to have the support of at least one of the opposition parties to pass it and stay in power.
The Conservatives have said they plan to introduce the same budget as they did in March. The opposition parties all said they would oppose that budget, but it was never voted on before the government fell, triggering this election.
Additional reporting by Rod Nickel and Jeffery Hodgson; Editing by Will Dunham