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NDP Leader Jack Layton and his wife Olivia Chow walk out of Sun News Network studios after an interview on April 21, 2011 in Toronto. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NDP Leader Jack Layton and his wife Olivia Chow walk out of Sun News Network studios after an interview on April 21, 2011 in Toronto. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

For Layton, Quebec success shows voters they 'really do have a choice' Add to ...

Jack Layton is riding high after a pair of polls show the NDP overtaking the Bloc Québécois - a change that would mark a huge transformation of the political landscape if it carried through to election day and was transformed into seats in the House of Commons.

A CROP survey published Thursday in the Montreal newspaper La Presse suggests the NDP is the preferred choice for 36 per cent of Quebeckers, compared to 31 per cent for the Bloc. The Tories were at 17 per cent in that poll and the Liberals were at 13 per cent.

And an EKOS Research survey conducted for the internet news outlet iPolitics suggests that the New Democrats have jumped 10 percentage points since just before last weeks' leaders debates to 31.1 per cent while the Bloc has dropped to 23.7 per cent.

Meanwhile, a Nanos Research poll conducted for The Globe and Mail suggests that Mr. Layton's New Democrats are closing in on the Liberals for second place in popular support across the country.

The NDP currently holds just one seat in Quebec. But Nanos and other polling companies have found Mr. Layton's popularity is surging in that province - in part because he leads a party that, unlike the Liberals or the Conservatives, has been free from the taint of scandal.

"We've been working hard in Quebec to build our message and have people get to know the New Democratic Party," Mr. Layton told reporters on Thursday. "But I think the key thing is that people felt that Stephen Harper was going to bring change and he didn't do it."

Just this week, The Globe and Mail revealed that Mr. Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, had attempted to interfere in an appointment at the Montreal Port authority, a body that is supposed to be autonomous. Mr. Harper characterized the interjection as "normal", while Mr. Layton said it is just one more example of pork-barrel politics.

But Mr. Layton said he believes the increase in support for his party is not just a Quebec phenomenon and he will be travelling from one end of the country to the other to convince voters his platform would work best for Canadians.

"I am feeling a lot of energy and enthusiasm wherever we go as people begin to realize that we really do have a choice here in this election," he said. "We don't have to go back to the same old, same old."

The NDP Leader who, with his wife MP Olivia Chow, spent an hour with the new Sun TV network on Thursday, did not appear overly gleeful at the numbers suggesting he has momentum at a critical juncture of the campaign.

"I'm not just a smiley face," he quipped, making reference to insults that were lobbed at him in Quebec by Bloc sympathizers who see him as an increasing threat.

At a rally on Wednesday evening, he said "there were some people who came up to me privately who have lost their jobs in the forestry sector and they don't see a prospect for the future and it just made me all that much more determined to drive this issue home."

But Mr. Layton faces two challenges between now and election day.

The first is that the increasing strength of the NDP appears to be coming at the expense of the Bloc and the Liberals, which could allow the Conservatives to capitalize on vote splitting and potentially win a majority - something Mr. Layton clearly does not want.

The second is that support for the New Democrats is traditionally not as solid as it is for other parties and in previous years it has slipped away in the final days of the campaign as voters change allegiances to cast ballots strategically. If the NDP is seen as having the same strength as the Liberals, that may be less of a factor in this election.

"Every time there's an election we've increased our support," Mr. Layton told reporters. "So we hope that will continue and we hope that this will be a major surge this time."

The CROP survey of 1,000 Quebeckers online took place between April 13 and 20. Due to its non-random character, there is no margin of error.

The EKOS poll was based on telephone interviews, on landlines and cellphones, using Interactive Voice Response technology. It was conducted between April 18-21 with 1,084 respondents and is considered accurate to within 3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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