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Harper pledges to give West clout

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Edmonton — Stephen Harper promised to give Westerners real power as he wound down his campaign in the province, and region, that gave rise to his political career and to a movement he says will change Canada for the better.

The Conservative Leader ended the 35-day campaign with two large Alberta rallies and a six-bus convoy designed to demonstrate that he is the candidate with the wind in his sails. He also pledged the most Western-influenced government Canada has seen.

"We're going to change the system, we're going to make things better, we're going to clean up the mess," he told a rally of about 900 people in Edmonton.

"And we're going to bring this part of the country into power in Ottawa."

The previous day in Surrey, B.C., he told a cheering crowd: "I urge you on Monday to say loudly and clearly that old battle cry: 'We want change and we want in.' "

The West Wants In was a slogan of the old Reform Party, under which Mr. Harper was once an MP and for which he acted as policy chief.

Mr. Harper began his political career 16 years ago in Alberta with Reform Party co-founder Preston Manning, together pledging to give the West more influence in Confederation.

The final rallies also came as his deputy leader, Peter MacKay, talked of how his party would co-operate with regional representatives — including the Bloc Québécois — to shift some federal powers to the provinces and cities.

"I don't see it as devolution. I see it as fairness," Mr. MacKay said, responding to questions on how the Conservatives and Bloc might co-operate.

"I see it as treating the provinces, and in some cases the municipalities, on issues as being partners in a confederation and as having a say and doing away with some of the wrangling and the ongoing animosity that we've seen in this Liberal government in the last 10 years."

Mr. MacKay pointed to health care, infrastructure spending, justice, foreign affairs and trade as areas where the Conservatives and Bloc might co-operate.

"We've indicated all along that we're willing to work on an issue-by-issue basis in the best interests of the country," he told CTV's Question Period. "Really, that's the way we have to approach this. That's the way any minority government would approach this situation."

Mr. Harper's decision to finish the campaign in the Conservative heartland was the subject of some debate within the party's strategy team last week, when some members wondered whether it wouldn't be better to continue trolling for votes in Ontario. Sources said Mr. Harper eventually decided he felt he owed it to his adopted home to finish the campaign there.

"For the first time in our history, we have a national competitor for government that has its political roots in a Western political culture," Mr. Harper said in British Columbia on the weekend.

The bus convoy rolled from Edmonton, through central Alberta and ended up in Mr. Harper's hometown of Calgary. It was carried out mostly for the benefit of the television cameras in an effort to underline Mr. Harper's belief that he is the front-runner in this race.

But while that might have been true at the midway point of the campaign, by yesterday the Conservative effort had sagged somewhat, bringing the party relatively even with the Liberals.

Mr. Harper also received a slap from Joe Clark, the former Progressive Conservative leader and prime minister. Mr. Clark decided on the weekend to endorse Liberal MP Anne McLellan in her battle for re-election in Edmonton Centre, reminding voters of his own decision not to join the newly created Conservative Party. Earlier this spring, Mr. Clark told reporters that Canadians would be better off with Mr. Martin at the helm.

Mr. Harper acknowledged on the weekend that he would have to govern cautiously under a minority scenario.

"I would have to listen a lot more carefully to Parliament than previous prime ministers," he said in Kelowna, B.C.

He also conceded that his own policy proposals might be curtailed, and that he would concentrate on the types of measures that all parties would agree on.

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