VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada’s election campaign entered its final stretch on Sunday with all sides trying to weigh the impact of growing support for the New Democratic Party, which has traditionally lagged its rivals.
The ruling Conservatives remain firmly first, but with the May 2 vote approaching it was unclear if the left-leaning NDP’s recent climb would cut into support for Prime Minister Stephen Harper or take votes from the centrist Liberals.
The Conservatives are hoping to win a majority government in the election.
They won minority power in Canada’s last two elections, in 2006 and 2008, that required them to get support from at least one of the opposition parties to pass legislation such as the budget and remain in power.
The New Democrats have never governed Canada. Voters often abandon them in the final weeks before elections to back the main opposition Liberals who have traditionally been seen with more chances of winning.
But a strong showing by NDP leader Jack Layton in the election debates and struggles by the separatist Bloc Quebecois in Quebec have put wind in the party’s political sails and put the other parties on the defensive.
A Nanos tracking poll released on Sunday put the New Democrats in a statistical tie for second with the Liberals nationally, and dogging the Bloc Quebecois in the fight for first in Quebec.
The poll showed the Conservatives just shy of the amount of 40 percent national support that pollsters say is traditionally needed to win a majority government.
The impact of the NDP’s momentum on the Conservative’s aspirations of majority government will depend on whether Layton grabs voter support from Harper or from Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.
Harper campaigned over the weekend in British Columbia in a bid to stem growing New Democrat support on the Pacific coast, where the Liberals appear to be trailing the other parties.
At an Easter Sunday service at a predominately Chinese Christian church near Vancouver, Harper heard a prayer to protect him against “evil people.” It was not clear whether the reference was aimed at his political rivals.
He heads to Ontario on Monday to campaign in areas now held by the NDP.
Ignatieff and Layton both campaigned on Sunday in Ontario, where the Conservatives could benefit from vote-splitting by the New Democrats and Liberals on the left side of Canada’s political spectrum.
The Liberals also aired a 30-minute commercial on two English language national networks to promote Ignatieff, a respected academic and journalist who has struggled to get Canadian voters to warm to him.
The commercial intertwined material recorded on the election trail where Ignatieff pushes the Liberal’s policies with sections in which he talks directly to viewers about his family and personal experiences working overseas.
Editing by Laura MacInnis