Confident Layton tours Tory ridings in B.C. as orange tide rolls on

DECISION 2011: Opposition barbs grow sharper as NDP advance continues.

Photo of Jack Layton campaigning in Quebec courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

OTTAWA -- Jack Layton will try to do a little poaching today, working a pair of Conservative-held ridings in B.C., where polls suggest NDP support is growing.

At a stage in the campaign where his predecessors would have been looking to shore up support on key NDP constituencies, Layton is on a foray into what once was enemy territory.

His schedule isn't that of a leader trying to hold on to seats; it's for someone looking to pick off new ones.

The growing orange tide shows no signs of ebbing in the final days of campaigning for Monday's election and Layton is trying to make the best of it. He will be in Kamloops in theInterior and then in Courtenay on Vancouver Island.

In 2006, NDP prospects in such regions would have been slim to none. But given the mushrooming growth of NDP support being tracked by the polls, anything is possible.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is taking his tight-wrapped campaign from Montreal to Brampton, where he wants to chip away at Liberal seats in the so-called 905 belt which girds Toronto.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff begins his day in Val d'Or, Que., before heading to Ontario events in London and Kitchener.

It's not friendly ground. The Liberals held one of three London seats in the last Parliament and none of the three Kitchener ridings.

With polls suggesting the NDP have leapfrogged the Liberals in popular support, Ignatieff faces a two-front war. He has to somehow beat back the Layton surge while keeping Harper under fire.

The Liberal has taken to sniping at "Smilin' Jack,'' saying government requires more than a grin.

The surge in NDP popularity has put Layton under far more scrutiny than in past campaigns. Where his party's platforms in the past largely got a free ride, his opponents are starting to analyze his promises.

Ignatieff scoffs at the NDP suggestion it can make billions from a cap-and-trade emissions program that hasn't even been set up.

He accused Layton of telling voters one thing in French and another in English.

"That's not consistent,'' Ignatieff said. ``That's not worthy of a federal leader.''

Harper warns against smiles and "snake oil.'' His stock plea is for a stable, majority Conservative government, not an opposition coalition with policies cobbled together from two platforms.

And Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe, whose party is shockingly trailing the New Democrats in some polls, has reacted by accusing Layton of being uncaring about Quebec issues.

Layton himself has seemed uncomfortable at some of the questions he's facing.

Grilled about NDP candidates who took vacations during the campaign and one Quebec candidate who may not be fluent in French, he finally snapped at journalists in Yellowknife.

"So that you can ask your questions, I'll let you interrupt me as often as you want, but I'll try to answer as best as I can. Can I finish a sentence?'' he said.

Meanwhile, out of the limelight, Green leader Elizabeth May continues her grassroots effort to beat junior cabinet minister Gary Lunn. But her party's support has also been eroded by the NDP.

With one weekend left before polls open Monday morning, it's possible the NDP wave could still crest and break, but there are no signs of that.

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