Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NDP momentum 'all about Jack'

Layton wary as party nips at Tory heels

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OTTAWA -- NDP Facebook users have taken to calling it "Jack-mania."

Pollster Frank Graves likes to refer to it as the "orange crush."

But NDP Leader Jack Layton remains cautious despite the unexpected surge he and his party are enjoying as campaign 2011 barrels towards election day on Monday.

"I don't use those kind of metaphors," Layton told the Free Press in an interview Wednesday. "There is a hunger for some positive change. Our message is resonating but there is still a lot of work to do."

The NDP message is catching on, said Layton, because Canadians are tired of what they've always had.

"Our essential message is Ottawa is broken and we're not going to fix it if you choose the same old choices," he said.

Just three weeks ago, pundits were preparing for Layton's political obituary, with the NDP down at 13 per cent in the polls.

Support began to rebound after the debates on April 12 and 13. By last weekend, the NDP were tied with the Liberals. They've shot right over the big red tent this week and are closing in on Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

Three different polls released Wednesday had the NDP at, or over, 30 per cent and between three and five points behind the Conservatives.

Layton and the NDP are living in unfamiliar territory. They've never been this high in the polls. The most seats the party has won was 43 in 1988. Pollsters predict they could win more than 100 and become the official Opposition.

Early in the campaign, some news outlets stopped staffing Layton's plane but now the media corps surrounding Layton is growing as fast as the crowds at his events.

The party's war-room staffers are running ragged fielding an uptick in interest from the media and responding to attacks coming from every corner.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is painting the NDP as inexperienced and not ready for prime time.

"We have certain values that we have always shared and we've shared for 60 years," Ignatieff said. "We share objectives with the NDP -- but for heaven's sake, contrast this," he said, holding his family-pack platform, "and what Mr. (Jack) Layton is trying to offer to the Canadian people... is not credible."

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned of an NDP-led coalition that would raise taxes and re-open constitutional talks.

"Friends... it matters very much who is making the big decisions. Sometimes the tough decisions. They're not all easy decisions. They're not all smiles and snake oil. Get the big decisions wrong and it will take a generation to dig ourselves out."

Two of the country's major banks issued warnings of the implications of the rise in NDP support.

And, Layton shrugged it all off: "We can understand bank economists are worried because we think banks have had too many across-the-board tax cuts."

The NDP have pledged to scrap corporate tax cuts and limit credit card interest rates, both things that would make bank executives squirm.

But ordinary Canadians, said Layton, want step-by-step help for their families. Small businesses, the core of Canada's employers, need help more than big businesses and their investors.

Winnipeg Centre NDP candidate Pat Martin cannot control his excitement at the NDP prospects.

"It's never been more fun to be a federal NDP candidate," Martin said. "You always have hope but I've been around a long time and I've been disappointed a lot."

He said "not in my wildest dreams" would he have imagined even three weeks ago that his party would be where it is right now.

"The message hasn't changed much over the last 30 years, so why is it clicking now?" Martin asked. "If there were one single answer to that question, it's all about Jack."

Layton, said Martin, brought a corporate-management skill to the party it never had before, installed competent people to run the party with him and is raising more money than before.

Pollster Nik Nanos said Wednesday Layton had surpassed Harper on Nanos' leadership index, which measures trust, competence and vision for Canada.

It was the first time anyone has beat Harper since Nanos began the leadership index in 2008.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Latest polls

 

Ekos

Conservatives 34%

NDP 28.1%

Liberals 22.9%

Green 6.5%

Bloc Québécois 6.6%

(2,573 decided voters, by telephone between April 24-26, margin of error +/- 1.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20)

 

Forum Research

Conservatives 34%

NDP 31%

Liberals 22%

Bloc Québécois 6%

(3,150 people, by telephone April 26, margin of error +/- 1.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20)

 

Layton on keeping the campaign surge going:

"We've got five more days and a lot of folks to see."

 

Layton on fears from economists about the "left-leaning NDP":

"There have been NDP governments at the provincial level. In Manitoba, the NDP delivered 10 consecutive balanced budgets... An NDP government can be very good for business."

 

Layton on why the NDP message is resonating:

"I think people are discouraged with Stephen Harper. He came in on a promise of change. With his secretive approach to governing there are certain aspects to his government that are worse (than the Liberals).

 

Layton on a coalition with the Liberals or Conservatives:

"I'm trying to replace the Harper government. Until the polls close that's my only focus."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2011 A4

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