New polls show rise of New Democrats in Canada

09:53, April 24, 2011      

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by Mark Bourrie, Zhang Dacheng

A series of new public opinion polls shows a large shift in voter support for the New Democratic Party (NDP), even it is unlikely that the party could overtake Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party in the May 2 election.

It is possible that the Conservatives may clinch a whopping 201-seat majority in the 308-seat House of Commons, since it was ranked first among Canadian political parties based on most of the polls.

What is surprising is that some polls suggest the New Democrats have surged to the second place with the election just 10 days away, although the party held only 36 seats in the House before the election was called and has never placed anything better than third. A second-place finish would make it the official opposition in Parliament.

The Conservatives have reacted to the growing strength of the New Democrats by launching a series of attack ads similar to ones launched with devastating effect against the Liberal Party and especially its leader Michael Ignatieff.

Black-and-white images of NDP leader Jack Layton and separatist Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe are set among shadows in the ad as a sneering narrator intones that the NDP chief is driven by blind ambition.

Meanwhile, Harper will campaign Saturday in the British Columbia constituency of Vancouver Island North, where Conservative lawmaker John Duncan faces a strong threat from an NDP candidate.

But the most unexpected thing for NDP is the party's poll numbers in Quebec, where it has never won more than one of the province's 75 seats. By promising strong social programs, provincial autonomy and cultural protection for Quebec's French-speaking majority, the NDP has stripped away some of the support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

Duceppe reacted to the NDP's growing strength by playing to French-Canadian nationalism.

"I am inviting Quebecers to reflect, to discuss this, and look beyond the image," he said. "To not vote for a mirage but for a party, the Bloc Quebecois, that is the mirror of Quebec society."

Meanwhile, voting began Friday at advance polls where people could cast their ballots early. Long lines were reported at some polls -- with half-hour waits at one station in Montreal's Outremont.

Pollsters disagree on the likely election results. Polls by Nanos Research, taken for the Globe and Mail newspaper and the CTV television network, showed the Conservatives at 39 percent support, slightly below what they needed for a majority government.

"The Conservatives have to watch out on issues such as ethics, accountability and abortion in the last few days of the campaign," said pollster Nic Nanos. "It's going to be very important for the Conservatives to manage that."

The Conservatives lead in every region of the country, except Quebec. The party is at 36.5 percent in Atlantic Canada, 42.6 percent in Ontario, 47.6 percent in the Prairies and 47.8 percent in British Columbia.

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