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Whatever happens tomorrow, the NDP surge is a sign of hope for Canada

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Jack Layton

It's too late for televised accusations of "blind ambition" to stop the momentum of the New Democratic Party.

It's too late for plaintive calls to cost out NDP proposals, which Canadians pretty obviously like, to have much effect.

Jack Layton and the New Democratic Party may be on the cusp of a historic breakthrough in tomorrow's federal election, or they may face a bitter disappointment like that experienced by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent in 1988.

Whatever happens, the decision will be made one by one by Canadians in the privacy of a polling booth. Habits, instincts, intuition, loyalties, distrust of traditional right-wing parties and desire for change will all play a role.

But it's too late for sinister Conservative attack ads, which take time to penetrate public consciousness, or grave warnings in Liberal political speeches, which are made only to the party faithful, to have much impact.

Whatever happens on election day, who would have thought when this federal election was called that the most dramatic story of the campaign would be the surge -- or perhaps the rising tide -- of Jack Layton's NDP?

If anything, in the opening hours of the campaign, the prevailing media story line about the NDP was whether or not it could hold the seats it has. The campaign was painted as a two-horse race between the mighty Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the not-so-mighty Liberals under Michael Ignatieff.

Somewhere along the way, though, Layton caught fire and his party began to follow him up in public esteem. Principally, it was Layton's performance in the two televised national leaders' debates -- one in French and one in English -- that really started the ball rolling. That said, from the get-go Layton had a lot of respect, both as an effective Parliamentarian and a politician of goodwill.

The fact the Conservatives didn't consider Layton or the NDP threats until too late also helped. For months, they directed their unsavoury attack advertisements at Michael Ignatieff, succeeding in their effort to lower the Liberal leader in the eyes of the public, but sullying the PM a little in the process too.

But it is said here that the biggest reason for Layton's remarkable success so far is a combination of his upbeat, positive and patriotic personality with policies that truly reflect the vision of a majority of ordinary Canadians for their country.

That said, notwithstanding Layton's inspiring performance, the NDP still faces a tough, uphill grind even to increase its Commons seats by a small number, let alone the significant jump the party's popular support demands.

Our first-past-the-post Parliamentary system is biased in favour of the most powerful national party, which is the Conservatives despite Canadians' ambivalence about their negativity, fear-mongering, hostility to Quebec and diversity, and the unavoidable suspicion they will implement a destructive hard-right agenda if given a majority.

Our electoral system also favours strong regional parties such as the Bloc Quebecois. This explains the rise of the Reform Party, which later engineered a reverse takeover of the Conservative Party of John A. Macdonald and John Diefenbaker in the political sequel to the Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Moreover, our country's one-dimensional, corporate media campaigned openly against the NDP as it became apparent the party could have a real impact on Monday.

So it is still possible that even if NDP support is strong on election day we could see a Conservative majority or a Liberal resurgence. It is true also that polls are funny things, and voters may yet retreat to old habits or be paralyzed by apathy.

Still, the unexpected surge of the NDP in the spring of 2011 is a sign of hope. It indicates the true aspirations of Canadians are more inclusive and generous than our prime minister's dour and forbidding vision.

One thing is certain: Monday will be the most important day of Jack Layton's political career, and perhaps of Canada's history in this new century as well.

This post originally appeared as David Climenhaga's column in Friday's edition of the Saint City News, a weekly newspaper in St. Albert, Alberta. It is also posted on his blog, Alberta Diary.

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