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NDP Leader Jack Layton waves to the crowd as he leaves a Quebec City restaurant during a campaign stop on April 18, 2011. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)
NDP Leader Jack Layton waves to the crowd as he leaves a Quebec City restaurant during a campaign stop on April 18, 2011. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)

Delighted with polls, Layton frets over 'fires of discord' on national unity Add to ...

Jack Layton woke up in Quebec City to online polls that suggested his party is capturing the attention of voters across the country and especially in the province of Quebec, where his own attributes as a leader appear to be winning his party support.

An Angus-Reid Public Opinion poll released Monday suggests the Conservatives still hold a double-digit lead with the support of 36 per cent of decided voters but the New Democratic Party is now tied with the Liberal Party for second place at 25 per cent.

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And a poll by Leger Marketing conducted over the weekend for the QMI Agency, suggests that the NDP has eclipsed Liberals in many parts of the country.

That survey also suggests that, while the Bloc Quebecois is still the leading choice in Quebec, its support has dropped five percentage points in two weeks to 34 per cent. The NDP, meanwhile. has climbed six points in that province to 24 per cent and the New Democrats are now Quebec's most popular federalist party, according to Leger.

That echoes findings of a Nanos Research survey conducted Sunday which also puts the NDP in second place behind the Bloc in Quebec.

Both the Nanos and the Leger polls suggest the support for the separatist party has dropped to near historic lows - just as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is warning that a vote for any party other than his could lead to Quebec separation.

"I am discouraged to hear in these last 24 hours or so, the fires of discord being once again fanned when it comes to the nature of this country," Mr. Layton said after meeting with Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume. "And I say to these other leaders, let's not use an election to try to whip up division between Canadians and between Canadians and Quebeckers. Let's use an election to talk about solutions and how we can come together."

When asked by reporters to explain his party's rise in fortunes, the NDP Leader relied on some of the messaging he has been offering since the start of the campaign.

"I think people have seen that things are just running around in circles at the moment," Mr. Layton said. "People are looking for a change in direction, they are looking for an alternative and they are looking to us."

It will be up to Canadians to decide if the current momentum translates into seats, he said. "But I'm delighted with the reception that I received this morning, particularly in Quebec."

The Angus-Reid survey suggests that the NDP is also running in second place, ahead of the Liberals, in Western Canada and that Mr. Layton is the only leader with momentum. He is also tied with Mr. Harper in that survey on the question of who would make the best prime minister.

But the NDP faces the problem that, as its support rises to meet that of the Liberals and to approach that of the Bloc, it creates more opportunities for the Conservatives to capitalize on vote-splitting between its centre-left rivals.

And the New Democratic support is not as solid as the support enjoyed by the other parties.

In the middle of the 2008 campaign, an Angus Reid survey also suggested that the NDP was in a tie with the Liberals in voting intention but that changed dramatically on election day. Two in five of the respondents to the current poll who said they favoured the New Democrats also said they could change their mind before the election takes place.

So what is Mr. Layton going to do to make sure the Canadians who are now in his camp, even tentatively, stay there for another two weeks?

"We're going to travel the country from coast to coast to coast and we're going to emphasize that we don't have to go back to the same old ways with the same old parties," he said. "Canadians can grab this bull by the horns and really make a change happen and get some results in the immediate future, not years off the way the others are promising."

Quebeckers especially are willing to vote for change, Mr. Layton said. But the same thing is true of British Columbians and even Ontarians, he said.

"I think Canadians, as they head into the Easter weekend, they're going to gave some family time, they are going to be talking about what they want to see," said Mr. Layton, "and I think that more and more and more of them are going to be looking at voting New Democrat."

Before entering his meeting with Mr. Labeaume, Mr. Layton spoke at a breakfast where he outlined his plan to help cities. It includes dedicating resources to build green infrastructure, with targeted funds for urban transit, clean water, research and development.

The NDP Leader said he spoke with the Quebec Mayor about the city's desire for streetcars, retaining basins for salt water and an institute to study water - all projects that could qualify for federal funding under NDP policy proposals.

"We have proposed a whole variety of initiatives for the municipalities," Mr. Layton said, "not only for Quebec, nor just for the city of Quebec but for all Canadian municipalities."

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