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Layton tries to rally soft NDP support

Canadian Press

Vancouver — Jack Layton sharpened his attack on Paul Martin on Saturday as he tried to stiffen the resolve of soft New Democrats who might drift to the Liberals in the waning hours of the election campaign.

Mr. Layton blasted Mr. Martin for "some rather sad last-ditch efforts to portray himself as coming from the same roots, the same wellspring as the NDP."

"Where does he get that one from?" Mr. Layton said during a campaign stop in Vancouver.

Mr. Layton continued a torrid swing through Ontario and British Columbia where he is trying to hold on to voters who might reach a last-minute conclusion that only Mr. Martin can stop the Conservatives from forming a government under Stephen Harper.


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"I'm hoping that Canadians won't make a choice based on fear," Mr. Layton said earlier in Hamilton, his voice a bit hoarse from back-to-back 19-hour days and little time off since the campaign began.

"The Liberals are always telling people, 'Chose us, or you'll get worse.' What kind of message is that? And besides, it's not true. The agenda of Paul Martin as he's delivered it in the last 11 years as finance minister, how different is it than what we see from Stephen Harper?"

The NDP is running in third place in national polls, but will likely finish with far fewer seats than the Liberals, Conservatives or the Bloc Quebecois.

Campaigning in Brampton, Ont., Mr. Martin tried to woo away NDP support that could push Liberals ahead of the Conservatives with a promise to protect the environment and human rights.

"The vision that we have ... is very progressive," Mr. Martin said.

"That's why I really do hope that given the choice between Stephen Harper and ourselves and given the closeness of this race, that they [NDP supporters] would lean our way."

Mr. Layton answered by saying Mr. Martin has allowed too much health care privatization and is drawing Canada into the United States missile defence program. Mr. Martin has also wavered on protecting gay rights and the Kyoto climate change treaty, according to Mr. Layton.

"For him to now come to New Democrats and ask them to somehow support him is absurd, it's not working," Mr. Layton said.

"Well, too bad for Mr. Martin. Why didn't he listen to anything we were recommending in the last 11 years while he was cutting our health system to bits?"

Mr. Layton's rapid weekend tour of the West Coast and across Ontario is meant to galvanize party activists who hold the key to getting NDP supporters to the polls.

Big, rowdy crowds met Mr. Layton as he combined the twin tactics of jetting across the country and quickly busing through a dozen ridings.

Mr. Layton drew hundreds of supporters at each of a dozen stops in 24 hours, including three noisy rallies at desolate parking lots. Early Saturday morning he hit a raucous pub in Guelph, Ont. just in time for last call where young supporters carried orange signs and pints of beer.

In Sudbury, Ont., about 200 people drove 20 kilometres to a grassy field just beyond the airport fence to hear a 10-minute speech and catch a glimpse of Mr. Layton's campaign plane.

Despite enthusiastic crowds and a strong organizational effort on the ground throughout the campaign, new polls published Saturday suggested NDP support remained stuck in the high teens.

The polls did not reflect the desperate pleas Mr. Martin made late this week to NDP supporters.

In Hamilton, Mr. Layton accused Mr. Martin of rooting out left-leaning members of the Liberal party, such as former Hamilton-area cabinet minister Sheila Copps.

"We've seen here that whatever progressive wing there was in the Liberal party was pushed out," Layton said.

Some of Copps's former riding association executives have abandoned the Liberals in favour of the NDP and were in the audience as Mr. Layton spoke Saturday.

"It's not revenge, it's about good government," said Jimmy Lomax, a Liberal since the 1960s who said he is supporting Mr. Layton, for now.

"I'm a Liberal, but not a Team Martin Liberal. I'm a Liberal gone to the NDP."

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