Canada election race narrowing to two parties as NDP stumbles

Wed Sep 30, 2015 6:49pm EDT
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By Allison Lampert and Randall Palmer

MONTREAL/OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's tight three-way election race may be turning into a two-party contest.

The left-leaning New Democrat Party (NDP), which had surged into top spot after an unexpected May victory against the ruling Conservatives in Alberta, has stumbled in national polls as support in its stronghold of Quebec wanes.

The NDP, down from first to third place in national polls, appears to have been hurt by its backing of Muslim women who want to wear the face-covering veil, or niqab, during citizenship ceremonies, while its plans to fund a universal day-care proposal have been greeted with skepticism.

The NDP, historically Canada's most socially progressive party, had looked federally electable for the first time ever, buoyed by the Alberta win and a shift away from far-left policies that had previously alienated voters.

But it has failed to distinguish itself from fellow center-left party the Liberals as the best alternative to the nine-year-old government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The NDP has been seriously damaged, too, by the fallout from a court ruling this month allowing women to wear the niqab during the oath of citizenship. The party's decision last week to come out in support of the veil has prompted a backlash, especially in predominantly French-speaking Quebec, a fiercely secular and electorally important province where many reject overt displays of religion.

"Right now we are looking at an emerging two-horse race with the New Democrats on the decline," pollster Nik Nanos said. He released a poll on Wednesday that showed the Conservatives and Liberals tied at 32 percent and the NDP trailing at 26 percent, down from a high of 33 percent.

While the party could still bounce back, momentum is going in the wrong direction, and there are just 19 days until the election.   Continued...

L-R Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper and New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair during the Munk leaders' debate on Canada's foreign policy in Toronto, Canada September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill