Layton sees growing Quebec support, targets Liberals

NDP Leader Jack Layton is enjoying an apparent surge in popular support after last week's leaders' debates and is making a pitch to Liberal voters, claiming the two parties' platforms are nearly identical.
Peter Mansbridge joins NDP Leader Jack Layton on the campaign trail for a one-on-one interview. 1:14

NDP Leader Jack Layton is enjoying an apparent surge in popular support after last week's leaders' debates and is making a pitch to Liberal voters, claiming the two parties' platforms are nearly identical.

In an interview with CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, Layton said the difference between his NDP and the Liberals is that his rivals have been in power.

Monday night on The National

CBC's Peter Mansbridge follows Jack Layton's campaign Monday on The National, and sits down with the NDP leader for a discussion of how he would handle coalition talks.

Tuesday, Mansbridge interviews Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

"They were [in power], and they broke their promises," Layton said. "We have yet to be in power. We're making some commitments, and we've got a strong record of delivering on what we say we're going to do in minority parliaments. And now we'd like the opportunity to do it as the leader of the governing party."

The attention on Quebec may be paying off for the NDP, as a clutch of polls released on Monday suggested the party is gaining strength in Quebec.

Leger Marketing released the results of its poll in Quebec, which showed Layton's New Democrats ahead of the Conservatives and Liberals, second to only the Bloc.

While the BQ is holding 34 per cent of committed voters, the NDP trails with 24 per cent, while the Conservatives and Liberals each hold 20 per cent, according to the online survey.

The margin of error for the Leger poll in Quebec alone was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. It was conducted between April 15 and April 17 with a sample size of 1,008 respondents.

The Monday poll results drew a rare comment on a poll from Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, who said the NDP's rise is worrying.

"When Layton rises, Harper snickers," he said to reporters, speaking in French. And while Harper tells voters he wants to fight to keep Quebec in Canada, "he has nothing to offer."

Speaking at a press conference in Quebec City Monday, where he was releasing the NDP's platform on help for cities, Layton was clearly buoyed by the poll results. Asked how that might be translated into seats, he said the party would simply continue to work.

"[We] say to Quebecers and Canadians that you have a choice: no matter what the other parties tell you, you have a choice. You can choose a new direction."

Single seat in Quebec

The NDP had only a single seat in Quebec when the election was called — Thomas Mulcair in the Montreal riding of Outremont.

The NDP is looking to make gains in ridings such as Gatineau and the northern riding of Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik, where the party is running the high-profile candidate Romeo Saganash.

For his part, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has made his own attempts to take voters away from the NDP since the campaign began. Ignatieff has made the pitch that the Liberals are the only party that can stop Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. But it's that history of governing that Layton is trying to use against the Liberals.

NDP Leader Jack Layton spoke to a campaign rally in Bridgewater, N.S. on Sunday. Layton is in Quebec City on Monday. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))
"The major difference is that we're committing to get things done," Layton said. "They've made commitments and turned right around and broke those commitments time and time again. That's the major difference."

The NDP leader got strong reviews after the two leaders' debates last week.

What isn't clear from the recent polling numbers is whether the rising support levels will be enough to win ridings across the province, or whether the NDP will play the role of spoiler in other races by bleeding support away from the other three parties.

Layton has spent the last several days campaigning in eastern ridings where the NDP hopes to capitalize on any momentum it has gained in public opinion polls following the debates.

The NDP leader donned a Montreal Canadiens sweater and mugged for the cameras in a Montreal pub last Thursday as the team opened its Stanley Cup playoff series against the Boston Bruins.

On Monday, Layton campaigned in the Quebec City area. The ridings around Quebec City may be in play in the May 2 election, if the NDP's uptick in the polls continues and the three federal parties can bleed support away from the Bloc Québécois.

He said his "green commuter" legislation would make it easier for employers to help employees with public transit, carpooling and cycling to work. The NDP's housing strategy would help cities to build affordable housing and to tackle homelessness, he said. And a crime plank would put more police on the street.

As a former municipal politician, Layton said he was proud that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities endorsed the plan.

Layton toured Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador over the weekend. The NDP is also hoping to gain additional seats in the Atlantic region.

Mansbridge followed the NDP leader on the campaign trail on Friday and Saturday. The full interview will appear on Monday night.