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NDP Leader Jack Layton eats watermelon during a campain stop at the Atwater Market in Montreal Sunday, May 1, 2011 (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NDP Leader Jack Layton eats watermelon during a campain stop at the Atwater Market in Montreal Sunday, May 1, 2011 (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Quebec fans greet Layton on final campaign day Add to ...

One more stop in Montreal gave Jack Layton a chance to start the last day of his campaign the way he wants the election to end, with surprising, adoring mobs of Quebeckers he hopes will spread his NDP surge into the battlegrounds of Ontario.

Before a run down Highway 401, Mr. Layton toured the stalls of Atwater market, pressed by Montrealers asking for photos with their kids and pledging their votes, and taking the get-out-the-vote cry to the kind of enthusiastic crowd that past NDP leaders only saw in dreams.

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But these are nervy days for the NDP, which now must worry that its wave of support doesn't ebb back at the end, or dissipate because the party's organization is stretched to deliver votes in places the New Democrats have never set to work before.

Mr. Layton was spending Sunday in the feel-good mode of photo ops and campaign rallies, in Montreal and Ontario ridings, stopping in Kingston, Oshawa, and two Toronto districts. He was not holding press conferences with reporters - he has usually done one a day - to avoid last day missteps.

At Montreal's Atwater market, Mr. Layton mugged while tasting a watermelon slice from a stall-keeper, was crushed by crowds and cameras and accosted by well-wishers with flowers and flags. He closed with a morning mini-rally of hundreds, where he told them the NDP was on the cusp of a historic breakthrough.

"We have an historic opportunity. And in fact it began right here in Quebec," he said.

"It began here in Quebec when people said the old debates, the old conflicts that we've had, let's put them aside for a moment. And let's work together, reaching across from one end of this land to the other, to make life better for seniors who are living in poverty, to make our policies for the environment the most advanced in the world, not the most backward in the world. To have our voice for peace become clear like a sounding bell around the world instead of the policies that we've seen where our troops are still in Afghanistan."

Watching, 26-year-old Sébastien Parent, who never voted NDP before because he thought it would be a wasted ballot, said he has already gone to advance polls to cast his ballot for Tyrone Benskin, the NDP's candidate in Montreal's Jeanne-Le-Ber riding, where elections have been two-way battles between the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois.

Mr. Parent said he will vote for the separatist Parti Québécois in provincial elections even though he's not a committed sovereigntist. But he doesn't get excited about the Bloc, so he chose Mr. Layton:

"I believe in his policies, mainly, policies that bring people together and connect with Quebec values," Mr. Parent said. "It reaches me more than the Bloc's, and the Bloc is something that's never going to end up as, say, a majority government in the Canadian Parliament. So it counts for absolutely nothing if I give my vote for that."

The Quebec surge - an Angus Reid poll of 3003 Canadians that claims a margin of error of 1.8 percentage points, found 45 per cent of Quebeckers intend to vote for the NDP - now raises the question of whether all those newly-infatuated NDP supporters will make their way to voting booths Monday.

Mr. Layton has used the Quebec wave in other places across the country to help build momentum - and he was clearly hoping to frame his final push that way, as he travels through Liberal and Conservative-held ridings.

The province with the most seats now appears to be a three-way race, and the NDP is suddenly pushing for seats like Kingston and the Islands - where Liberal Commons speaker Peter Milliken is retiring after holding the seat for 23 years. He'll also stop in Conservative-held Oshawa, and in Liberal-held ridings in Toronto's Beaches neighborhood, before what NDP organizers are touting as a big closing rally in Scarborough, a Liberal fortress for decades.

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