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NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.ADRIAN WYLD/The Canadian Press

New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair promised a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions – including strict limits on the oil sands – as he worked Sunday to regain momentum in a campaign that appears to be flagging somewhat in Quebec.

In national polling released Sunday, Nanos Research had the Liberals at 32.5 per cent across the country, the Conservatives at 31.5 and the NDP at 27.6 – the lowest level for the New Democrats since Nanos began its nightly tracking on Sept. 4. The NDP slide was due almost entirely to its decline in Quebec after last week's French-language debate, though it still has a substantial lead in the province.

With his main rivals out of view in preparation for Monday's debate on foreign policy, Mr. Mulcair outlined a climate policy that would set aggressive national targets for emission reductions and require hard caps on industrial emissions, but allow provinces to keep their own plans as long as they meet federal stringency. The NDP Leader said both the Conservatives and previous Liberal governments have failed to implement the climate policies needed to meet Canada's international obligations.

Mr. Mulcair said the cap-and-trade plan would not generate revenue for the federal government and that any money raised would go to the provinces to allocate as they wish. That's a major shift from the NDP's 2011 plan, which would have raised $20-billion a year in federal revenue; the Conservatives spent four years taunting the NDP for planning a "job-killing, $20-billion tax on everything."

"As Prime Minister, I will work with the provinces and territories to put a price on carbon and reduce emissions to hit national targets," Mr. Mulcair told a Toronto rally Sunday. He said he would insist on "hard caps" on industrial emitters, a clear reference to the oil sands sector where producers are under provincial regulations that allow them to expand emissions as they increase production.

The NDP program would build on measures being taken by provinces, including a joint cap-and-trade plan being worked out by Ontario and Quebec, British Columbia's carbon tax and Alberta's planned economy-wide climate plan, which Premier Rachel Notley promises to unveil this fall. Mr. Mulcair said the price on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) would essentially be set by the market once the national cap on carbon was determined.

The NDP is proposing climate-change accountability legislation that would include a target to reduce emissions by 34 per cent from 1990 levels by 2025. That's far more aggressive than the Conservative goal of cutting GHGs by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. The Harper government set an interim target of 17 per cent below 2005 by 2020, but Environment Canada has said the country would not meet that goal without a host of new measures.

As he tacks to the centre on fiscal policy by promising balanced budgets, Mr. Mulcair sought to highlight his progressive credentials on Sunday with a more aggressive stand on climate policy and a pledge to repeal Bill C-51, the controversial anti-terrorism legislation that was supported by the Liberals.

The NDP entered the campaign as a narrow front-runner – an unaccustomed position for the party – but has lost that lead in recent weeks. Quebec is a crucial battleground as the party vies to form government. In the 2011 Orange Wave, New Democrats under Jack Layton took 59 of the province's 75 seats and unseated the Liberals federally as official opposition.

Although still leading in Quebec, the NDP has lost ground since the debate Thursday night, according to Nanos tracking. Both the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois have gained in the province while Liberal support remained unchanged. Support for the NDP in Quebec stands at 35.7 per cent, while the Liberals are at 27.9 per cent. The Conservatives have 18.2 per cent, the Bloc, 16.4, and the Green Party 1.8 per cent.