New Democrats reckon their best hope for growth in the next election lies in ridings held by Stephen Harper's Conservatives.
That's why NDP Leader Jack Layton is embarking on a pre-election tour taking direct aim at the Prime Minister in primarily Tory ridings across the country.
He kicked off the tour Tuesday in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., where he called on Mr. Harper to "stop gouging" consumers and remove the harmonized sales tax on home heating fuel.
He'll hit another 17 communities from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador by Jan. 26, when the NDP caucus is slated to meet to plot strategy for the Jan. 31 resumption of Parliament.
Along the way, Mr. Layton intends to introduce a handful of new candidates and unveil a couple of platform planks - on Senate reform and Canada's future role in Afghanistan.
He doesn't plan to waste time talking about fellow opposition leaders Michael Ignatieff and Gilles Duceppe.
"The thrust of it is to set the stage to challenge Stephen Harper in 2011," NDP national director Brad Lavigne said. "We have a singular focus and that is Stephen Harper."
Mr. Layton's approach contrasts with that of Mr. Ignatieff, who kicks off a "20/11" cross-country tour on Wednesday.
The Liberal Leader is hitting 20 ridings in 11 days, concentrating on vulnerable ridings he believes his party can steal away from the Tories, NDP and Bloc Quebecois. Liberal insiders say Mr. Ignatieff's message will be aimed convincing NDP and Bloc supporters that the next election will be a two-party contest, and that they must vote Liberal if they want to get rid of the Harper Tories.
Mr. Lavigne said Mr. Ignatieff's message "is not true" on two counts. He argued that Liberal seat losses resulted in Harper winning two consecutive minority victories and those Liberals who did win have wound up "more times than not ... actually voting with the Conservatives to implement their agenda."
In any event, Mr. Lavigne said the NDP Leader won't waste his time attacking rival opposition parties.
"If you want to insult people by suggesting that their previous votes have been wasted, that is a tack that [Liberals]are more than welcome to take. Our tack is different," Mr. Lavigne said.
"We know that we attract Liberal and Bloc voters, not by going into their seats and saying what bad people they are, but rather by our sharp criticism and contrast with Stephen Harper."
Mr. Lavigne said Mr. Layton is not "beating the drum" for an election but is prudently laying the groundwork for one should the government be defeated over its budget, expected in late February or early March.
He said the NDP soon plans to unveil its newly renovated campaign war room, has TV ads in the works, financing in place, and campaign jet lined up.