Canadians are increasingly looking at Jack Layton as the man who would make the best leader of Canada, a new poll suggests.
The survey by Nanos Research, which was conducted on April 27, shows the NDP Leader pulling well ahead of his Conservative rival on a scale that measures Canadians' beliefs about who is the most trustworthy and competent and who had the best vision for Canada.
Using the same measure, Mr. Layton eked ahead of Mr. Harper for the first time on Wednesday. Given the margin of error, they were effectively tied at that time, said Nik Nanos, the president of the polling firm.
By Thursday, however, Mr. Layton was well ahead - scoring 95.3 compared to Mr. Harper's 83.2. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff was well behind at 34.3.
The rise in Mr. Layton's leadership numbers corresponds with the uptick of support that his party has experienced in recent days in Ontario as some of the orange surge in Quebec drifts across the provincial border, Mr. Nanos said.
If the NDP Leader sustains his advantage through to voting day, that is strategically very important for the NDP - because the Conservative campaign has been built around Stephen Harper, Mr. Nanos said. "There's no team to fall back on."
The Conservatives must try to tear down the Layton brand in the next 48 hours, he said. "There's not a lot of time." And, if they don't succeed, Mr. Nanos said, "he's just going to have too much of an advantage going in to election day."
Trying to change opinions about a man who has been watched by Canadians for eight years as NDP Leader, and closely scrutinized through four election campaigns, won't be easy, Mr. Nanos said. But "what's the alternative?" he asked.
The survey suggests that trying to tell the electorate that Mr. Layton can't be trusted, or that he does not have a good vision for Canada, simply won't work, Mr. Nanos said. Mr. Layton outscored Mr. Harper in both of those categories.
"I think the most credible way to deal with any surging leader is to say, 'Okay, let's fast-forward, what does this mean to Canadians? What does this mean to you as a voter?'" he said. "They can't beat Jack Layton on personality because of what I believe is the likeability of the man."
The rolling poll of 400 people is considered to reflect the broad opinions of Canadians within 5 percentage points, 19 times in 20.
The same survey asked respondents to state the national issue that is their top priority. Health-care easily outdistanced jobs and the economy, as it has done since the first week of April.