Toronto: Conservatives surge in the polls days before Canadian federal elections

The Conservative Party appeared unstoppable Wednesday, as its numbers continued to surge in the polls with only five days before Canadians elect a new government.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was now setting his sites on two traditional Liberal strongholds _ Ontario and Quebec _ addressing loud rallies with adoring supporters chanting one of the central theme's of the so-far successful Conservative campaign: A time for change.

After a rally in Toronto, Harper headed to Quebec, where polls show the Conservatives have twice as much support as the Liberals. The influential Quebec newspaper La Presse endorsed the Conservatives _ who didn't win any seats in the French-speaking province in the last election.

After 13 years of Liberal Party governments led by Jean Chretien and current Prime Minister Paul Martin, Harper's Conservatives appeared poised to not only make big gains next Monday, but possibly even win a majority of 308 seats in the House of Commons.

Martin's minority government was toppled in a no-confidence vote in November, after his Liberals were unable to overcome a corruption scandal involving tens of millions of misspent tax dollars that prompted a federal inquiry.

A new poll for The Globe and Mail newspaper indicated the Tories were well ahead and could possibly even win a majority of 308 seats in the House of Commons on election day next Monday.

Of the 1,500 people surveyed between Sunday and Tuesday, 42 percent said they would support the Conservatives, while 24 percent backed the Liberals and 17 percent the New Democratic Party. The poll conducted by the Strategic Counsel in Toronto had a margin of error of 2.5 percent.

Harper was wooing Torontonians on Wednesday, praising them as hardworking people in a city unique for its diversity. He noted one in six Canadians live in the financial capital and that half of the 5 million Canadians in the metropolitan area were born in another country. Winning seats in Toronto would help the Conservatives' chances of forming a government, but the city _ and its many immigrants _ have voted strongly Liberal in recent elections.

He vowed to cut in half the C$1,000 (US$860; Ђ700) right-of-landing fee that Canada charges new immigrants and pledged to formally apologize to Chinese-Canadians whose ancestors were forced to pay a humiliating head tax between 1885 and 1923. The tax was enforced to discourage more Chinese immigrants, who were no longer deemed necessary to build the national railroad grid, the AP reported.

He also said he would create a federal agency to assess ways to make it easier for well-educated immigrants to find jobs in Canada. Many taxi drivers in Toronto, for example, are doctors and engineers from India or Pakistan who are unable to get work in their professions.

A.M.