By BRIAN LAGHI
Globe and Mail Update
Penticton, B.C. Declaring himself the friend of soccer coaches and bus commuters, Stockwell Day used a pricey last-minute infomercial Sunday to make a final pitch for a desperately needed electoral breakthrough in Ontario.
In a 15-minute address, the Canadian Alliance Leader urged television viewers to cast their ballots for him Monday because Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien cannot be trusted to spend Canadians' money wisely.
"Without new ideas, or vision, Mr. Chrétien and his Liberals are now asking us to write a blank cheque on the future of Canada," Mr. Day said in the advertisement, which appeared on five television stations based in Ontario. "Can you trust Mr. Chrétien and the Liberals to do the right thing, if times get tough?"
The address was an effort by Mr. Day to get around the news media and put his party's policy in front of voters after a five-week campaign during which the Alliance was consistently knocked off message.
The key goal for the party is to win seats in Ontario, where, as the Reform Party, it elected only one MP in two elections. Failure to elect a clutch of representatives from the province would mean a serious rethinking of the party's future path.
Mr. Day fashioned his message by focusing on the party's policies of tax cuts, debt control and toughening up the justice system. He also appealed to large swathes of suburban Ontario by saying he was the candidate to best represent the rank-and-file.
"I stand with the hard-working people of our nation, the people who take the early bus and work the late shift," he said. "Who coach hockey and soccer, who contribute to the life of their communities and invest their sweat to build businesses and employ others."
The Alliance would not reveal the cost of the airtime, but one independent expert said the spots, which appeared before and after the Grey Cup game on stations not carrying the game, might cost an average of $250,000 apiece for a total of $1.25-million. The stations used were based in Toronto, Hamilton, London, Ottawa and Barrie.
With its timing, the party is trying to pick up as much of the Grey Cup game audience as possible, said Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing at York University in Toronto.
The Liberals released their own last-minute ad yesterday, although theirs was only 30 seconds long. It ran nationally, warning voters about what the Liberals see as the dangers of minority government and stressing the Liberals' economic record.
"Let's not risk our prosperity with an unstable government, risky last-minute alliances and economic policies that have failed in the past," a male voice urged.
Mr. Chrétien did not show up in the commercial. Most of the pictures were still shots of regular Canadians, headlines from national newspapers and head shots of the other party leaders.
The Alliance tactic resembled those of Mr. Day's former boss, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, who annually purchases airtime to deliver a state-of-the-province address.
Mr. Day did not directly touch on many of the controversial issues that have dogged the Alliance this campaign — namely the accusations that the Alliance would try to impose a hidden agenda by bringing back restrictions in areas such as abortion.
He did, however, indirectly address accusations that his party is intolerant, arguing that he and his party are broadminded.
"You can count on me in good times and in bad to stand by those values, the values that respect the liberty of the individual and the integrity of the family and the values that respect differences of opinion, faith, conscience and thought."
In a news conference in his home riding yesterday, Mr. Chrétien said it is too late for Mr. Day to start defending his policies now.
"One of the amazing situations in the campaign — and I've seen a criticism of that — whenever we were speaking about their program, he said 'Oh, but it's not quite what I'm proposing,' " the Liberal Leader said. "He would have been better to have a program and defend it, rather [than] to try and say, 'Oh, we will have exactly the same thing as the Liberals.' "
Mr. Chrétien added that the Alliance has a different agenda than the Liberals and it should have been more willing to push it forward.
"To come 15 minutes before the deadline, it's a bit late. He should have had a position and defended it."
At one point Mr. Day also decried the attacks made on him by the Liberals during the campaign.
"I have never personally attacked their personal beliefs," he said. "Nor have I responded in kind to slurs or untruths. I think Canadians expect more from their elected officials."
For their part, the Liberals have accused Mr. Day of his own brand of negativity, citing Mr. Day's assertions that Mr. Chrétien broke the law by lobbying the head of a federal Crown corporation to help with a loan for a constituent.
The infomercial was also a stab at delivering one of the Alliance's key messages: the need for change.
The Alliance has always felt that it can do well in this campaign by presenting Mr. Chrétien as old and tired, and Mr. Day as the spark for change in the country.
The party has had difficulty, however, in pushing that message given the number of gaffes and other occasions when it was forced off its message. "The key question in this election is will Canadians elect a government whose best days are ahead, or a government that is mired in the past?" asked Mr. Day. "This election is really about choosing what type of future you want for this country."
Mr. Day spent the last weekend of his campaign rushing through strongholds in Western Canada. His furious pace included a stop in Edmonton, where the Alliance is hoping to knock off two Chrétien cabinet ministers, Anne McLellan and David Kilgour.
Mr. Day, an observant Christian, did not campaign yesterday, and planned to vote early this morning in his home riding of Okanagan-Coquihala.
With a report from Daniel Leblanc and Heather Scoffield