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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's leftist New Democrats, long in a distant third or fourth place in federal politics, have nosed ahead of the ruling Conservatives in some polls, including one released on Friday.
It is still more than three years until the next election, and the well-funded Conservatives have yet to bring out their heavy advertising artillery against the New Democratic Party (NDP), currently in second place in the House of Commons.
But the polls show that the New Democrats, who favor higher corporate taxation and want to slow Canada's oil sands production, at least have a good shot at forming the first-ever federal NDP-led government.
A Nanos poll on Friday had the NDP at 33.6 percent of decided voters and the Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, at 33.5 percent, with the more centrist Liberals at 24.9 percent.
"This is the first time in Nanos tracking history that the NDP have numerically surpassed the Conservatives, albeit by 0.1 percentage points," pollster Nik Nanos said.
A weighted average of several recent polls, compiled by Eric Grenier at www.threehundredeight.blogspot.com, has the NDP at 34.2 percent and the Conservatives at 33.9 percent.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair made controversial remarks over the past several weeks saying that Canada was taking in too much money because of its oil sands production, and this was driving up the Canadian dollar and therefore hurting manufacturers.
He advocates making the oil companies pay for their carbon emissions and a tougher application of environmental laws.
"The research suggests that there is no significant negative blowback by Thomas Mulcair's comments on the oil sands," Nanos said.
Nanos surveyed 1,201 Canadians by telephone and found 1,006 committed voters. A sample of 1,006 is considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Eric Beech