OTTAWA In a startling new poll, the leftist New Democratic Party has leaped to a tie for second place with the Liberal Party, which has always formed either the government or the main opposition.
The Ekos survey, released on Thursday, put the NDP and the Liberals at 24.7 percent of decided voters apiece, nearly 10 points behind the governing Conservatives, which Ekos pegs at 34.4 percent.
Other polls show rising support for the New Democrats, but not to the same level.
If that NDP support translates to votes, it will make it increasingly hard to predict the outcome of Canada's May 2 federal election, Canada's fourth election in seven years.
Under Canada's electoral system, a party usually needs about 40 percent of the vote to win a majority in the House of Commons. But a majority is also possible if the gap between the front-runners is more than 10 percentage points.
Complicating factors include the fact that a left-wing vote could be split between Liberals and New Democrats, or between New Democrats and candidates for the separatist Bloc Quebecois in Quebec, allowing a Conservative candidate to win a race with well under half the vote in an individual district.
In Quebec, Ekos found the Bloc Quebecois in the rare position of being in second place, behind the NDP.
Both the Liberals and the New Democrats want to increase corporate taxes, with the NDP advocating a bigger rise, to pay for increased social and education spending.
A Nanos Research poll also showed a rise in support for the NDP and had the Conservatives within reach of winning a majority in the election.
The Nanos tracking poll of three days of results put support for the Conservatives at 39 percent, down 0.1 point from Wednesday.
Support for the Liberals fell to 26.7 percent, from 28.4 percent on Wednesday, and down 5 points from the beginning of April.
The Conservatives had a minority in the last Parliament and needed support from at least one other party to stay in power.
The NDP stands at 22.1 percent of the vote, up 6 points in the Nanos poll since the beginning of April. Most of the NDP gains have come at the expense of the Liberals.
The daily Nanos tracking figures are based on a three-day rolling sample of 1,015 decided voters and are considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
The Ekos poll, released by iPolitics, surveyed 2,156 adult Canadians, including 1,981 decided voters between April 18 and April 20. It considers its results accurate within 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
(Reporting by Randall Palmer and Euan Rocha; editing by Janet Guttsman)