A spate of polls in the past 24 hours showing surging support for the New Democratic Party nationally, particularly in Quebec, has cast a new dynamic on a federal election campaign with just 11 days to go.
The NDP's apparent momentum in Quebec in the wake of last week's federal leaders' debates has caused the Bloc Québécois to revise its campaign tactics by taking aim at Layton directly.
An online survey done by CROP, which the company said cannot be assigned a margin of error because the methodology doesn't allow for random sampling, shook up the race in Quebec overnight Thursday, showing a surge for the NDP.
'I have felt that our message has been resonating and we've felt momentum. We have a lot of work to do. We're going to be saying to Canadians "you have a choice here".' — NDP Leader Jack Layton
The CROP survey indicated NDP had the support of 36 per cent of respondents in Quebec, compared with 31 per cent for the Bloc Québécois.
The Conservatives were third with 17 per cent, and the Liberals were trailing with 13 per cent of vote, according to the poll. It was conducted online, surveying people between April 13 and 20, CROP said. The company surveyed 1,000 English and French speakers in Quebec, and the data were weighted for gender, age, language, and "social/cultural values."
A poll from Nanos showed the NDP gaining in support nationally, but the sample size for Quebec was too small to give results within an acceptable margin of error.
An Ekos poll for iPolitics.ca released Thursday suggests the NDP and Liberals are locked at 24.7 per cent voter support nationally, behind Stephen Harper's Conservatives at 34 per cent. Support for the Greens was at 7.8 per cent, while the Bloc trailed at 6.5 per cent, according to the survey.
The Ekos poll was conducted between April 18 and 20 and surveyed 2,156 Canadians aged 18 and over, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.
The NDP is attempting to seize on this swing in popularity by sending Layton into Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe's riding for a rally on Saturday.
When the election was called, the Bloc held 47 of Quebec's 75 seats, but the sudden shift in apparent voter intention toward the NDP is forcing Duceppe to change his tactics, taking full aim at Layton and trotting out some star power from the Quebec sovereignty movement.
Layton said on Thursday morning that Quebec voters, along with voters in other provinces, are warming up to his party's message of reforming Ottawa.
"I have felt that our message has been resonating and we've felt momentum. We have a lot of work to do. We're going to be saying to Canadians you have a choice here," Layton told reporters in Toronto.
"You can really change Ottawa this time and it's a golden opportunity to fix what is wrong there."
Duceppe denies 'losing control'
When asked on Thursday about the NDP's sudden strength, Duceppe said in French that he was "not losing control" of the election campaign in Quebec.
Duceppe told reporters that the polls showing the NDP ahead of his party should be discounted, but said he is not taking any of the party's traditional support for granted and will be campaigning hard until May 2.
"It's not the first campaign we have to fight very furious to the very end," Duceppe said.
"I remember campaigns like that before and we have to do some — I'm not taking into account anything."
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the polls show there is volatility in the Quebec electorate.
"Quebec wants to get rid of the Harper government. Quebec also thinks voting for the Bloc is a waste of time," Ignatieff said.
"So they are experimenting, they are looking around."
But the Liberal leader said the NDP will never form a government so he pitched his party as the only alternative to the Conservative government.
Speaking in Newfoundland and Labrador, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said he would not comment on the recent polls showing the NDP's growth in support in Quebec.
Instead, Harper repeated his campaign-long stance that he needs a majority government and that means picking up seats in every province.
"Our position has been the choice in this election is the choice between a strong Conservative majority government that will focus on the economy, or whatever you want to call it, coalition, arrangement, alliance of the other three parties — the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois — which will have a very different set of priorities, spend a lot more money, raise taxes and get us back into constitutional debates," Harper said in a campaign event in Conception Bay South, NL.
Layton called 'conservative'
Sebastien Ricard, a popular Quebec singer and prominent sovereigntist, spoke at a Bloc rally on Wednesday night, where he delivered an impassioned speech against Duceppe's rivals.
Ricard characterized the Bloc's political rivals as radical conservatives, which includes the NDP. The singer said behind Layton's nice smile and "used-car salesman's French" is an authentic conservative. Ricard did not elaborate on how the NDP leader was a conservative.
Even Duceppe honed his stump speech to try to reverse the NDP's sudden strength in Quebec.
The Bloc leader told the partisan rally how the NDP supported repatriating the constitution without Quebec's signature in 1982 and how it supported the Clarity Act on future sovereignty referendums.
The three polls reinforce survey results from Leger Marketing released earlier this week that showed Layton's New Democrats ahead of the Conservatives and Liberals, second to only the Bloc in Quebec.
The NDP only controls one seat in Quebec, which is held by Thomas Mulcair in the Montreal riding of Outremont.