TORONTO, May 1 (UPI) -- Canada's fourth federal election in seven years Monday pits the economically Conservative minority government against a surprise rally by socialists.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives have led in all polls published since his government was brought down by an opposition coalition non-confidence vote in late March although there has been a surge in the past week away from Michael Ignatieff's Liberals in favor of the socialist New Democratic Party led by Jack Layton.
Traditionally, the NDP has ranked third in polls to the Conservatives and Liberals federally. However, Layton's populist campaign style has apparently won over many Liberal voters with various polls showing the NDP in second place, fewer than 10 points behind the Conservatives.
Harper, who has a master's degree in economics, has steadfastly campaigned on getting the country's economy out of deficit by 2014. Ignatieff and Layton targeted Harper's five years in power with criticisms of policies that include purchasing new fighter jets, building more prisons and seeking to abolish a national rifle registry.
In two debates last month, Harper made few personal remarks about Ignatieff, Layton and separatist Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe. However, the Conservative party's campaign ads were combative, targeting leftist ideology and asking "where will the money come from?"
Ignatieff is a former history professor who was teaching at Harvard University in 2006 when the Liberals wooed him back to Canada to assume a vacant parliamentary seat. Two years later, he went on to win the leadership of the party that was foundering under another academic, Stephane Dion.
Regardless of party allegiances, Canadians appear frustrated by yet another election and the parliamentary bickering associated with a minority government. In three days of advance voting Friday, Saturday and Monday, a record was set when more than 2 million of the country's 24 million eligible voters lined up to cast ballots, taking election officials off guard.
Friday, the left-leaning Toronto Star newspaper conceded "the collapse of Michael Ignatieff's Liberals" as the rightist National Post concluded an editorial with an overt call for readers to vote for Conservatives.
The poll numbers can be deceptive, however. Canadians don't vote directly for the prime minister, but rather for local members of Parliament, whose collective numbers determine political clout in Ottawa.
Conservatives have 143 of parliament's 308 seats and need 155 to secure a majority among the four parties.
Should polls published Friday prove accurate after Monday's election, Canada could again be led by a minority government faced with an unprecedented socialist opposition.
Averaging poll results Friday, UPI found Conservatives had 35 percent support nationally, the New Democrats had 30 percent and the Liberals, 22 percent. The balance was spread among the Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and undecided voters.