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Martin urges progressives to support Liberals

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Gatineau, Que. — Liberal Leader Paul Martin campaigned late into the Vancouver night yesterday in a coast-to-coast, last-ditch pitch, selling himself as the only option for "progressives" — including New Democrats and Greens — and aiming an all-out declaration of his integrity at Quebeckers.

Travelling to rallies in four Nova Scotia towns, then hitting campaign stops in Gatineau, Que., and Winnipeg before ending with a night rally in Vancouver, Mr. Martin sought to turn the campaign into a stop-Harper referendum by appealing for "all progressives to come together."

The campaign of the once seemingly unbeatable Liberals that was to be centred on Mr. Martin's promise to fix Canadian health care ended with a warning that Conservative Leader Stephen Harper would threaten the Charter of Rights, hurt the environment and have Canada join in U.S. military adventures.

Mr. Martin denied there was desperation in the marathon finish (which was to be followed by an overnight flight to arrive in Montreal at 7 a.m. today, to vote in his Lasalle-Émard riding) but acknowledged the race is so tight that a few votes in a few ridings could see his government pushed out of office.

"From Nova Scotia to Vancouver, back to Montreal, it's a non-stop, cross-country blitz with a clear message to those who are thinking of voting NDP, to progressive people everywhere, to vote for the one party, the only party that can stop Stephen Harper from becoming prime minister," an energetic Mr. Martin told a rally in Windsor, N.S.

The last three days of his campaign were based on an anti-Harper appeal.

By Saturday, Liberals were distributing "Stop Harper" buttons.

"We really think this is the time for all progressives to come together," Mr. Martin told reporters yesterday in Wolfville, N.S.

Also yesterday, he targeted both Green Party and NDP supporters, and campaigned with former progressive conservative MP Scott Brison. In stump speeches, Mr. Martin summed up his stand as a combination of NDP values and "responsible economic management," listing what he called differences with Mr. Harper.

"I will defend minority rights by upholding the Charter of Rights. I will honour Kyoto, and invest in a healthy environment — clear air and clean water. I will keep us out of deficit, and I will create new and better jobs for Canadians. I would not have sent our troops to Iraq. And I will oppose any move to put weapons in space," he told Liberal supporters in Halifax.

For Quebeckers, he repeated warnings that separatists would use a vote for the Bloc Québécois to push for a referendum on Quebec separation — and added a new pledge of integrity.

"Since I entered politics, I have always kept my promises. I say what I'm doing, and I do what I say. I will not change. I commit to giving you a government of honesty and integrity. I commit to giving you a government in which Quebec has a strong voice," he told supporters at a whistle-stop rally at Gatineau Airport.

The Liberal Leader touted his gruelling last-day tour, selling it as a symbol of a "true national party."

"The symbolism of doing it from ocean to ocean — in fact, I wish I could do it to the third ocean," he said. On Saturday, he told reporters: "I could not live with myself in terms of a candidate anywhere in this country and obviously in British Columbia, if I felt that I had not done everything that I possibly could."

Flying across the country for a 20-minute rally in Vancouver was also seen as a strategic move: many ridings in British Columbia will be won in close, sometimes three-way races.

After three previous campaign swings through British Columbia, the Liberals said their standing in provincial opinion polls rose temporarily — a blip they are hoping to see repeated today.

Mr. Martin has looked more vigorous and comfortable campaigning in the past 10 days fighting for survival in government, than he did as the falling front-runner in the first two weeks of the race.

The threat of a loss appears to have sharpened the Liberal Leader, and also forced him to jettison many of the broad, middle-of-the-road positions he took as a leadership candidate, for a more left-leaning, central-government stand. The new tone was aimed at opening a divide with the Conservatives, but his middle-ground positions of the past made it hard for it to stick.

Mr. Martin began the campaign selling his $9-billion plan to fix medicare, but by the end, his health-care pitch focused on dire warnings that Mr. Harper would allow violations of the Canada Health Act. However, Mr. Martin's approach to provincial transgressions of the law had been far more conciliatory before the campaign.

Yesterday, Mr. Martin added a new line to his stump-speech to NDPers and Greens, noting he would oppose "the weaponization of space." But he conceded to reporters he has left open the question of whether Canada would join in U.S. plans to create a missile defence shield.

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