Paul Martin, Canada's prime minister, and Stephen Harper, his Conservative challenger, returned to the campaign trail in Ontario yesterday after two gruelling televised debates in which Mr Martin struggled to reverse the slide in Liberal support.
No clear winner emerged from Tuesday night's English-language debate, which gave voters their only chance before the June 28 elections to see the four main party leaders go head-to-head.
However, instant polling and focus group surveys suggested that Mr Martin had failed to reignite the Liberal campaign, while Mr Harper had fared well with many viewers.
Mr Martin faced separate onslaughts over alleged Liberal mismanagement and corruption from Mr Harper, Jack Layton, the New Democratic party leader, and Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois. Although Mr Martin rarely lost his cool, he at times appeared frustrated by his opponents' efforts to drown him out.
He rounded on Mr Harper, saying he would have dragged Canada into the US-led war in Iraq and that he would curb women's rights to abortion. Voters had a choice on June 28 between two different leaders with different visions of the country, Mr Martin said.