* New Democrats fight image that a vote for them is wasted
* Some polls show surge in popularity
* Big issue is whether Conservatives will get majority
* Liberals say only they can replace Conservatives
(Adds Liberal reaction, paragraphs 13-14)
By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA, April 18 Canada's left-leaning New
Democratic Party has never been a serious contender for power
in federal politics but with its numbers jumping in some polls
it's gunning for a breakthrough in the current election
"Regardless of what other parties are telling you, you have
a choice," NDP leader Jack Layton declared at a news conference
in Quebec City on Monday, two weeks ahead of the May 2 federal
The party, which wants to boost social spending and
corporate taxes, has always been hampered by the fact that
Canada does not have proportional representation.
That means that coming in second or third in any electoral
district does not bring the NDP closer to power, so a vote for
for it is often viewed as wasted. In the 2008 election, it won
18.2 percent of the vote but only 12 percent of the seats.
That's because he is fighting sometimes as many as three
other parties in the fragmented field to the left of Prime
Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives.
The Liberals, the only party besides the Conservatives to
have governed Canada, have regularly tried to woo NDP voters,
especially at the last minute, by saying that voting Liberal is
the only way to block a Conservative majority in the House of
But some recent polls put the NDP ahead of the
Conservatives and the Liberals in the large province of Quebec,
and an online Angus-Reid survey released on Monday even had the
party tied with the Liberals nationally at 25 percent.
"People realize that Ottawa is broken, that it's not
working for them," Layton said. "They're seeing the same old
parties, and they're fed up, a lot of them."
Layton's performance in televised leaders' debates last
week has bolstered his position, though pollsters are certainly
not unanimous in showing the NDP neck and neck with the
A Nanos rolling phone poll on Monday put the Liberals at
29.8 percent -- 10 points behind the Conservatives but more
than 12 points ahead of the NDP.
Harper won minority governments in 2006 and 2008 and is now
pushing hard for a majority, saying it is the only way to
prevent constant elections and a lurch to the left at a time of
The other parties say Harper is unscrupulous in his hunger
for power and must be stopped.
But Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff went further on
Monday, saying that it is not simply a question of preventing a
Conservative majority but replacing the Tories. He said the
Liberals are the only party that can do that.
"The vote on the 2nd of May has always been a choice
between governments. It's not a choice between opposition
parties -- who can limit the damage, who can send a message to
Ottawa," Ignatieff told a news conference in the Northwest
Territories. "The choice must be who can replace Mr. Harper."
The Conservatives are polling a comfortable eight to 12
percentage points ahead of their rivals, but are projected at
current levels still to fall short of a majority.
Harper pledges to pursue sustained growth and jobs without
raising taxes. The Conservatives also want to go further in
cracking down on crime and spending on the military.
The Liberals would roll back some corporate tax cuts and
boost spending on higher education, on helping people care for
sick family members and on improved pensions.
The NDP platform would roll back corporate cuts even
further than the Liberals, and encourage job creation with tax
credits to small businesses. It would also hire more doctors
and nurses and buy ships for the navy instead of jets for the
(Editing by Peter Galloway)