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Energized by polls, Layton swings for the fences in Quebec

NDP Leader Jack Layton fields a question a campaign stop in Montreal on April 14, 2011.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Fresh from a solid showing at the French-language leaders debate and a poll that suggests Quebeckers think he has leadership skills, Jack Layton took his campaign to Montreal where he hopes to capitalize on an upsurge of support.

At the end of a news conference peppered with questions about his party's ability to attract voters in Quebec - where the NDP holds a single seat - one reporter asked if the New Democrats would try to bring the province into the umbrella of the Constitution.

Mr. Layton said yes - but it will take time to establish the right conditions.

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"It's abnormal and unacceptable to have a situation in which we find ourselves. The National Assembly did not give its support to the Canadian Constitution," he said.

This is not something that can remain as is, Mr. Layton said.

"The only thing we can do is to have a good government in Ottawa that is going to act, respecting Quebec, and let us begin by creating winning conditions for Canada in Quebec with bills that will protect the French language," he said.

"We are preparing conditions for us to have the type of discussions that might do something extraordinary and something that should be achieved."

After two weeks of languishing well behind the Liberals and the Conservatives in the public-opinion polls, the New Democrats appear to be on something of an upswing.

A Nanos Research poll Thursday has them at 18.3 per cent in popular support. That's five points higher than where the same survey pegged them just a few days ago.

Meanwhile, an Ekos survey released Wednesday said the "demise of the NDP is clearly premature."

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"The New Democrats are showing important new strength, particularly in Quebec and British Columbia where they now lead. The NDP have risen steadily since the outset of the campaign," the poll said.

That has the New Democrats casting eyes longingly at Montreal and its environs.

And that may have prompted the more direct attacks on Mr. Layton by Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe during the leaders' debates. Mr. Duceppe said, at one point, that Mr. Layton would never be prime minister and a vote for the NDP would be a wasted.

"I am running for prime minister and I am being very direct about it and I am telling people about it," Mr. Layton told reporters. "Mr. Duceppe is running for prime minister of Quebec, I guess, but he's not telling anybody."

One problem for Mr. Layton is that, in running hard against the Bloc, he could split the vote and allow the Conservatives to coast up the middle in some ridings. The New Democrats have made it clear that a worst-case outcome for their party would be a majority government led by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

One reporter asked Mr. Layton if his end game would be better served if he focused on stopping the Tories rather than adding to his own seat count.

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The NDP Leader replied that Olympic athletes are lucky their coaches do not share that view.

"The defeatists can live in their life of defeatism," he said. "We are optimistic, we are excited about what can happen, we know that we have to change this Stephen Harper government, that it's going in the wrong direction and leaving an awful lot of people behind. And we're going to take this one right down to the wire."

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