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Politics Quebec braces for a shift in the political landscape

New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton gives thumbs up to the crowd at a campaign rally in Gatineau, Quebec, April 25, 2011. Canadians will go to the polls in a federal election on May 2.

Patrick Doyle/Reuters/Patrick Doyle/Reuters

Quebec voters are closing in on a historical shift that could see the province sending a majority of federalist MPs to Ottawa for the first time since 1988.

A series of riding-by-riding polls is showing that the rising NDP will threaten Conservative ministers such as Lawrence Cannon and Josée Verner on May 2, and likely topple Bloc and Liberal strongholds. The thirst for a new type of federal politics in Quebec is being felt everywhere, and if the polls prove accurate, the results will drastically reshape the province's electoral map after years of relative calm. Even the city of Trois-Rivières, homeland of former Union Nationale premier Maurice Duplessis, is projected to elect an NDP MP.

While the other parties are targeting NDP Leader Jack Layton, he keeps getting new supporters, such as former Bloc staffers who are urging sovereigntists to rally behind the New Democrats.

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"For the first time in our political lifetimes, social-democracy is at the doors of Parliament. It would be sad if Quebeckers did not take that opportunity to send MPs in Ottawa who will carry Quebec values of solidarity and justice," said an open letter written by Maxime Bellerose and Benoît Demuy, two former Bloc officials.

The Quebec Federation of Labour, which is officially backing the Bloc in the campaign, said it supports NDP candidates as well.

"We share many of the same values as the NDP," QFL president Michel Arsenault said in an interview. "It is a social democratic party, and if a majority of Quebecers choose to align themselves with social democrats rather than with a party that promotes right-wing conservative values, that is quite comforting."

The NDP surge could still be stalled or fail to materialize if its new supporters stay away from the voting booth or are unable to make a difference in tightly contested three- and four-way races.

Still, recent polls show a series of NDP upsets in the making that could lead to the defeat of candidates from all three of the other major parties. Conservative MPs in the Quebec City area, as well as Mr. Cannon in the Outaouais, are in jeopardy. A planned return to politics by former Liberal minister Martin Cauchon is likely to fail at the hands of incumbent Thomas Mulcair in Outremont.

The Bloc has counterattacked by portraying the NDP as defending the Canadian version of social democracy, instead of purely Quebec values and Quebec sovereignty.

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe will aim to stanch the Bloc's losses by campaigning in many of the party's longest-held ridings on Saturday with Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois. He blasted the former Bloc officials who are now urging Quebeckers to vote for the NDP.

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"If you ask me if I think they are right, I'll tell you they are wrong," Mr. Duceppe said, predicting their ultimate defeat. "I think they're making an error, just like [former Bloc supporters]who ran for the Tories in the past."

The recent poll suggests that Quebeckers would be happy to send a strong contingent of left-wing federalist MPs to Ottawa, whether to sit on the opposition benches or in a coalition.

"The NDP frequently said during the campaign that the other parties were running around in circles in Ottawa, and that if people continued to vote for them it would only keep on going," said Laval University professor Réjean Pelletier. "The growing support for the NDP is really a manifestation of a thirst for change, an alternative to what the major parties have been offering."

The Bloc has won more than half of the 75 ridings in the province in every election since 1993, consigning the Liberals and the Conservatives to also-ran status in Quebec ever since the 1990 death of the Meech Lake Accord.

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