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The Globe and Mail

Now within six points of Harper, Layton faces 'trial by fire'

NDP Leader Jack Layton heads to his campaign plane in Winnipeg on April 27, 2011.


Jack Layton's unprecedented surge in Quebec is beginning to spill over into the rest of Canada as he and his New Democratic Party close in on Stephen Harper's front-running Conservatives, according to the latest Nanos Research poll.

Michael Ignatieff's Liberals, meanwhile, are being left in the dust.

The three-day tracking survey conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV shows Conservative support at 36.6 per cent nationally with the NDP just six points behind at 30.4 per cent. The Liberals have 21.9 per cent support, the Bloc is at 6 per cent and the Greens are at 4.1 per cent support.

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And with such little time left before the May 2 vote the prospect of a majority government for the Mr. Harper's Tories is quickly slipping away, pollster Nik Nanos says. "It would take a phenomenally efficient national Conservative campaign to generate a majority at 36.6 per cent."

All of the momentum now is with Mr. Layton and his New Democrats, who now appear to be firmly in second place and poised to, at least, become the Official Opposition.

This is fuelled by Mr. Layton's growing strength in Quebec. The Nanos numbers show the NDP with 42.5 per cent support, up from 36.5 per cent the day before. This compares to the Bloc at 25.1 per cent. The Liberals have 15 per cent support and the Conservatives are at 13.5 per cent. The margin of error for the regional sample is plus or minus 6.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The poll also shows the NDP's Quebec strength is starting to move the party's numbers in vote-rich Ontario.

"We're in a phase now where we're starting to see a spillover effect with the NDP starting to gain in Ontario," Mr. Nanos says. "When parties start to gain in the two biggest provinces, Quebec and Ontario, you know the numbers are moving."

Mr. Nanos points out that the Tories are still comfortably ahead in Ontario - 41.1 per cent support compared to the NDP at 26.1 per cent - but their support has been slipping. In one day, between April 26 and 27, the Tories have dropped nearly six points from 46.9 per cent. The NDP, meanwhile, has seen its support grow five points from 21 per cent.

The Liberals are at 27.9 per cent in Ontario, up from 25.7 per cent the night before. The margin of error in the province is plus or minus 5.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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In British Columbia the Tories are well ahead with 45.3 per cent support. The NDP and Liberals, meanwhile, are in a statistical tie with 26.9 per cent and 23.1 per cent respectively. The margin of error in B.C. is plus or minus 8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Another factor in Mr. Layton's favour, Mr. Nanos notes, is that the question of "party leader" may be starting to become a factor in the way Canadians vote. Forty-nine per cent of respondents still say policy influences their vote but when asked about the party leader the numbers are moving slightly, from 24 per cent on April 26 to 26 per cent on April 27.

Mr. Nanos says that is good for whoever is ahead right now - and that is Jack Layton. As a result the target is now clearly on Mr. Layton's back; whether he can survive the onslaught will not be determined until ballots are cast Monday.

"This will be trial by fire for Jack Layton and the New Democrats in the next three days because there will be a full assault on all sides," Mr. Nanos says. "He has obviously done his damage on the Liberals in terms of their support and the Conservatives have to start looking over their shoulder."

The poll of 1,012 Canadians was conducted between April 24, 26 and 27. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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