LONDON, Ontario (Reuters) - Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Sunday warned Canadians against casting "protest" votes for the left-leaning New Democratic Party as he made a final push to win a majority in Monday's election.
Recent polls show the NDP, a small opposition party that has never governed Canada, with the support of slightly less than one-third of voters, ahead of the larger opposition Liberals and nipping at the heels of the Conservatives.
"A vote for the NDP is not a protest vote. It's a vote for an NDP government," Harper told a rally in Stratford, Prince Edward Island, on Canada's Atlantic coast. Harper was expected later on Sunday to campaign on the Pacific coast.
He said Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who was his chief rival when the campaign began five weeks ago, has now been reduced to the role of "backseat passenger" in a potential NDP government.
A Nanos tracking poll released on Sunday show the ruling Conservatives holding a lead but the New Democrats gaining support.
Although the Conservatives are expected to win the most seats in Parliament, the polls indicate they are shy of having enough support to form a majority government that would not need opposition support to remain in power.
Harper has led two minority Conservative governments since 2006, and the failure to win a majority in this election could cloud his political future.
His hopes of a majority rest on the opposition parties splitting the left-of-center vote and centrist Liberals jumping to the Conservatives to block the NDP from power.
The Conservative leader has tried to woo centrist-Liberals in recent days, warning them about the dangers of a potential New Democratic government.
The NDP's rise in the polls has been fueled by voter disenchantment with the other parties, including the separatist Bloc Quebecois in Quebec, and by the charismatic style of NDP leader Jack Layton, who performed well in televised leadership debates.
Layton focused his efforts on Sunday in Quebec and Ontario, telling a crowd in Montreal they had a lot of work to do to ensure their supporters voted on Monday. "We have an historic opportunity here," Layton said.
Ignatieff is also concentrating on Ontario, hoping to save seats in the vote-rich province and avoid an electoral catastrophe for the party, which has governed the country for much of the past 50 years.
(Additional reporting David Ljunggren)
Editing by Paul Simao