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NDP viewed as clearest alternative to Conservatives, poll shows

The NDP is seen as the party that offers the best-defined alternative to the Conservative government before an election in which Canadians will be asked to choose between political stability and renewal, a Globe and Mail/Nanos Research poll has found.

Fifty-two per cent of respondents said the NDP "represents the clearest change from the current Stephen Harper government." The Liberal Party was far behind at 19 per cent, with the Green Party at 10 per cent.

Change – and who can best deliver it – will be an essential issue in the Oct. 19 election, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper countering that voters should opt for stability.

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Both the New Democrats and the Liberal Party are positioning themselves as agents of change after 10 years of Conservative rule, but the findings suggest the Liberals have failed to differentiate themselves clearly from the Harper government to this point.

The poll also shows the NDP is nearly tied with the Liberal Party on economic issues. Asked to name the opposition party that they "trust most on matters related to the Canadian economy," 30 per cent of respondents named the Liberal Party, and 27 per cent opted for the NDP. (Thirty per cent said none of the opposition parties had earned their trust on economic issues.)

Confirming that Canada is headed for a three-way contest, the poll found a tight race to be the party with the "most appealing" policy platform. The NDP came in first at 28 per cent, followed by the Conservatives at 27 per cent and the Liberals at 25 per cent.

Pollster Nik Nanos said the NDP has staked out the clearest policy positions in opposition to the Conservative Party, while the Liberals have a more nuanced approach.

"The NDP and Tom Mulcair have been able to fashion themselves as the party of clear change," Mr. Nanos said in an interview. "For Canadians who are not happy with the current government, it looks like they have a clear sense the New Democrats are the ones who will be the most different."

Mr. Harper lumped the NDP and the Liberal Party together in a weekend speech at the Calgary Stampede, stating voters will face a stark choice.

"We've come too far to take risks with reckless policies. That's why I'm confident that, this October, Canadians will choose security over risk," the Conservative Leader said.

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The NDP and the Liberal Party are clearly working the same terrain. Mr. Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau spent Canada Day in the Greater Toronto Area, then went to the Calgary Stampede, and spoke one after the other to the Assembly of First Nations in Montreal on Tuesday.

The NDP has been working hard to reassure Canadians its economic policies would be largely in line with those of the current government. The biggest change proposed by the NDP is to increase corporate taxes, although party officials said the planned rate, to be revealed in coming months, would be "reasonable."

Party officials said the NDP is looking for candidates with an economic background who could serve as ministers of finance or industry. The recent upswing in the polls could make that easier.

The Liberals went through a tough period in the fall and winter as Mr. Trudeau stumbled on the combat mission in Iraq and struggled to find the right balance on the anti-terrorism legislation. In a bid to gather momentum, Mr. Trudeau has recently unveiled a proposal for an enhanced child benefit, plans for a more open government and a new environmental platform. The Liberals are also banking on a promise to increase personal income tax for Canadians making more than $200,000 a year and bring down the rate for middle-income earners.

While both parties want to replace the Conservatives, their partisans have been at one another's throats. Last week, the Liberals suggested Mr. Mulcair's flirtation with the Conservatives in 2007 undermined the NDP's promises to clean up the environment.

The NDP responded by parroting lines from the Liberals and Mr. Trudeau, taking to social media to call on Canadians to "replace the politics of fear and division with hope and optimism."

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The Nanos poll was a hybrid telephone and online survey of 1,000 Canadians, carried out from June 27 to 29, providing an accuracy rate of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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