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NDP Leader Jack Layton responds to question at a news conference in Toronto on April 21, 2011. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NDP Leader Jack Layton responds to question at a news conference in Toronto on April 21, 2011. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Tim Powers

The New Democrats rise up Add to ...

It appears Michael Ignatieff's call to "rise up" is being heeded - but not in the way the Liberal Leader had hoped. At this point it seems many centre-left and left-wing voters in Quebec and other regions are coalescing behind Jack Layton. The NDP Leader's challenge will be to keep them with him through May 2 but it should be no surprise to Ignatieff and Gilles Duceppe they are bleeding voters to Layton.

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Many of the observations that Ignatieff has thus far run a good campaign are just wrong. Ignatieff and his team have run a Liberal campaign better suited to the 1990s. They have spent their time talking about parliamentary procedure and constitutional dilemmas. When they have waded into policy they have been too focused on national schemes, which while important are difficult to connect to the everyday lives of the voters. They retain the veneer of old-school Liberals and their constant dismissal of Jack Layton's ability to become prime minister has reminded many that their arrogant, entitlement-minded attitude remains. Whereas Layton - like Stephen Harper - pitches policy to peoples' pocketbooks, Iggy remains lost in a Liberal la la land of days gone by.

In Quebec Duceppe - not unlike Ignatieff's party - looks a bit detached from the immediate concerns of centre-left voters. Layton's message and general achievements on the "getting results for people" front works in his favour. Duceppe appears a bit stale-dated to a mass of Quebeckers and Ignatieff just doesn't connect with a good chunk of the provincial electorate who see him as too right wing. Layton's personal charm and warmth also helps with Quebeckers who, like Newfoundlanders, want leaders with a passionate spirit.

Layton is a tenacious campaigner. He has a first-class team who are well immersed in the modern realities of today's electioneering. Not unlike the Conservative Leader, he is unafraid to learn from his past mistakes and he is committed to constant improvement. Layton has also jettisoned some of his party's old-school, regressive economic policies - though he still advocates too hefty of a tax-and-spend agenda for the liking of many voters.

Layton and Harper stand for things that are clear and easily understood. It is easier to find a needle in a haystack than to get a clear read of where Ignatieff and Duceppe are on the spectrum of identity.

It really should be no surprise that Layton is doing well in this election. If you are a centre-left voter you clearly know what you are getting with Layton. If you are a centre-left-leaning Liberal, Layton gives you more comfort than Ignatieff. If you are someone who advocates for an NDP-Liberal merger, voting for Layton also sends a message too because it will weaken the Liberals and might force them to acknowledge the real structural problems they have.

The voters are rising up, Mr. Ignatieff - but so far not for you.

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