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NDP leader Jagmeet Singh makes a heart sugnal as he attends a pancake breakfast during the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Saturday, July 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Some polls have Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole doing poorly, others have him doing worse. But all agree on one thing: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is in a political sweet spot.

If Justin Trudeau fails to win a majority government in an election that could be called as early as next month, it might not be Mr. O’Toole who brings the Liberal leader up short – it might be Mr. Singh.

Leger and Angus Reid have the Conservatives narrowly trailing the Liberals, while Ipsos and Abacus have the Liberals far ahead.

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Canadians believe their governments have, on the whole, managed the COVID-19 pandemic reasonably well, and over the course of that pandemic have rewarded incumbent governments of all stripes with re-election.

The similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and the Second World War appear strong. Both were traumatic and transformative. As society emerged from crisis, people looked to governments to build a strong recovery. People today are also worried about what appears to be the accelerating impact of climate change. Systemic racism and Indigenous reconciliation are important issues.

The Conservatives have offered no clear plan for how they would have handled the pandemic – and will handle the recovery – differently. They are not a party associated with fighting climate change, combating racism or improving Indigenous relations. We do not live in Conservative times.

But Mr. Trudeau is not a terribly popular prime minister. A recent Abacus poll has about an equal number of people saying they have a positive or negative impression of him, and Mr. O’Toole is quite unpopular. The only national party leader with a positive approval rating is Mr. Singh.

All recent polls have the NDP sitting at around 20 per cent, well above the 16 per cent they garnered in the 2019 election. If that number holds, the NDP should pick up seats: in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, in Toronto, elsewhere in Ontario, maybe here and there in the Prairies.

Here’s something else: The accessible voter pool – those who might consider voting for a political party – is now higher for the NDP (48 per cent) than for the Conservatives (41 per cent).

That doesn’t mean there is going to be some Orange Crush, in which the NDP smashes through in B.C. and Ontario, scattering Liberal MPs and sending the Conservatives into third place, which the NDP under Jack Layton did to the Bloc and Liberals in 2011 in Quebec. But the NDP popular vote, combined with its accessible voter pool and Mr. Singh’s popularity, suggests the likelihood of gains.

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This shouldn’t be all that surprising. In the 2019 election, Mr. Singh was unknown, he was out of his depth and the party was practically bankrupt. Today the NDP has paid off its debt and will be able to finance a respectable national campaign. Mr. Singh is a better-known, more confident and more experienced leader.

The Liberals appear to be on the brink of a majority government. They need 15 seats to do it. They could pick up a couple of seats in Atlantic Canada. The Bloc Québécois remain strong in Quebec and the Liberals are already dominant in urban Ontario – but a seat here, a seat there...

The Liberals’ best hope lies in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, where there were a number of close races last time out. But the NDP is running neck and neck with the Liberals in B.C. If Mr. Trudeau is limited to a second minority government, it may be Mr. Singh, not Mr. O’Toole, who does the limiting.

In every election, Liberals warn that supporting the NDP could split the progressive vote and elect Conservatives. That appeal often works. But if it is clear that the Conservatives are not going to win, progressives can support whoever appeals to them, and right now many find Mr. Singh appealing.

The Liberals are confident of victory, and optimistic about their chances of securing a second majority government. The Conservatives are well funded and Mr. O’Toole is likely, at the very least, to solidify the core Tory vote of around 31 per cent. The NDP could make gains. And some or all of that could turn to dust, based on events, dear boy, events.

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