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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Edged out in the polls, Canada's governing Conservative Party launched attack ads on Monday against the left-of-center New Democratic Party, which replaced the Liberals as the official opposition in the 2011 election.
It is a sign of the NDP's coming of age that the Conservatives have shifted their attention away from the Liberals, who until 2011 had always been either the governing or the largest opposition party.
The NDP appears to have solidified its position as the main alternative to the Conservatives of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Elections won't be held until 2015, but polls show that if one were held today, the NDP would form a minority government and end a stretch of Conservative rule that began in 2006.
The new television ads, the first to go after the NDP since the 2011 election, attack the economic and environmental policies of the party's new leader, Thomas Mulcair, as "risky theories" and "dangerous economic experiments".
Mulcair has said Canada is taking in too much foreign currency because of unrestrained output from the Alberta oil sands, thus driving up the Canadian dollar and consequently hollowing out the manufacturing sector - mimicking, he says, "Dutch disease". That moniker has been used to describe the withering of Holland's manufacturing sector after production from a large natural gas field hit full stride in the 1960s.
Mulcair has relished engaging the government on the "Dutch disease" question, despite the risk that it will cost him votes in resource-rich Western Canada.
So far his party has been enjoying a lead in public opinion. A weighted average of recent polls, on www.threehundredeight.com, puts the NDP ahead of the Conservatives 34.9 percent to 32.7 percent, with the Liberals well back at 20.9 percent.
For the top two, that's a reversal of fortunes from last year's election, when the Conservatives won 39.6 percent of the vote and the NDP 30.6 percent. The Liberals took 18.9 percent.
The Conservative Party has a relatively large war chest and has in the past two elections been able to crush Liberal leaders through its attack ads.
Monday's ad also claims that the NDP would impose a carbon tax and therefore raise the price of gasoline, groceries and electricity.
However, the NDP says it does not support a carbon tax. It does advocate a cap-and-trade system, which tries to curb carbon emissions to limit global warming through a system of permits that industries sell and buy in a carbon-trading market.
The television ads, in English and French, are posted on the Conservative Party website. Spokesman Fred DeLorey did not answer a query on whether the party has bought air time.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Peter Galloway