For what it's worth, while opponents of the Harper government should still vote tactically in ridings where the NDP are a distant third and show no sign of being able to win, Jack Layton and the NDP must now be the default selection for your vote.
I have not been shy in my fears that Layton's rise could lead to awkward left vote splitting, particularly in a substantial number of seats in Ontario that puts Harper over the top to a majority, but now the NDP has been in the polling lead over the Liberals and Bloc across nearly every region (Three Hundred Eight still shows the Liberals narrowly leading in the Atlantic and Ontario, but the trend in Ontario is clearly in the NDP's favour). What finally starts to reassure me is that the NDP have been projected to win a small number of currently held Conservative seats, and projected to hold a couple that the Conservatives were earlier projected to win.
Voters in Ontario should be most sensitive to the need to vote tactically Liberal, particularly in the 905 belt, plus a few other ridings like York Centre, Kingston and the Islands, London, Guelph and a number of others where the NDP are not very likely to close the gap in time. Sorry NDP, the memory of Premier Bob Rae is still hurting you in the province, fairly or not. I'm not sure why the NDP don't have more traction in the Atlantic, so again tactical voting may apply.
Michael Ignatieff has run on a more liberal platform than I would have expected from him, and in the traditional way campaigns are run and assessed, I think he has done a fair job. His debate performance wasn't terrible, no major gaffes, takes media questions well and he stick handled a few Liberal candidate problems well enough that they didn't become major issues. His personal approval ratings have gone up through the campaign. But he started from such a disadvantage for avoidable reasons such as that he should never have become leader of the Liberal party after the majority of the party's base united behind a dark horse candidate (Dion) to keep him out of that job in 2006. I was one of them. When Ignatieff became leader under strained circumstances in 2009, it's true there wasn't a party revolt, but almost no one was thrilled. Ignatieff started out without the home team cheering section a party leader needs to build a positive image with the population. Harper and Layton both have this. When Harper's inevitable attack ads came screetching in, Ignatieff did not have people to stick up for him in coffee shops and by office water coolers.
Further, much like Hillary Clinton, Ignatieff cannot escape the serious baggage that is his support for the invasion of Iraq while still in America. Both Paul Martin and Stephane Dion were able to make up some ground in 2004, 2006 and 2008 by pointing out Harper's support for that war, while reminding voters it was a Liberal government that kept Canada out of it, and in fact even denied George W. Bush Canada's moral support for the endeavour. It should be remembered as a particularly high point in the Liberal party's history. Ignatieff cannot use this. Meanwhile, Layton and Duceppe can and have used it against him. I'm not opposed to Ignatieff as Liberal leader because he's an intellectual, I'm opposed to him because he's a crappy intellectual who gets important things very wrong. Additionally between Ignatieff and Rae they have denied the Liberals any distinction with the conservatives over Afghanistan and again it is no surprise that the Liberals are bleeding support in a country that is tired of this war. Quebec particularly so and look where the NDP wave started.
Finally there is Jack Layton himself. I have my qualms about him. I never warmed to his personna the way others seem to have, but that alone cannot really be decisive. Layton strikes me a bit like a used car salesman. That perception may be unfair, but it is what it is. That said, I did enjoy Ian Welsh's story about Layton and am willing to revise my views on Layton as events dictate. I don't think he is above cynically exploiting issues for partisan advantage, and I worry that he wants to beat the Liberals much more than he wants to beat the Conservatives. Maybe that's how it has to be for a smaller party hoping to overtake a traditional big-tent party's place. It doesn't happen very often so there aren't a lot of models to compare against. For NDP supporters I hope they can keep a small part of their brains aware that Layton is a politician and a human and he is not immune to the failings of those classes. Layton can and has put the Party's interests over the interests of Canada. He does it less often than the Liberals, but it does happen. I worry about Layton's ability to hold to the NDP's progressive core while trying to navigate a massively enlarged coalition. He has not persuaded me that his promises to Quebec come from sincere progressive convictions about how Canada should accomodate our two solitudes, so I sense opportunism. I am giving Layton a chance to prove my fears wrong. Nothing in his record is as odious as Ignatieff's writings on torture or in support of a pointless, illegal and unjustified war against Iraq. Certainly he will be a better Prime Minister than Harper because he doesn't believe in all the bad ideas Harper does. Conservatism doesn't work, and remains a destructive force of inequity, dishonesty and division upon the modern world. The differences between Layton and Ignatieff are important, but next to Harper both are vastly preferable for the simple reason that they are at least open to doing the right things for Canada.
At the start of this election, my read was that the best that could come out of it would be another Tory minority which led to changes of leadership potentially in all four parties. Now at least Layton's rise has given me something more to hope for. We might actually be able to get Harper out of 24 Sussex and the NDP might get a chance to show Canadians how well progressive government can work for them, and for Canada. There's a lot of obstacles still even if Layton does become Official Opposition leader, but something has finally changed from our 5 years of political stalemate. The overwhelming need is to remove Richard Nixon North from office and I'm prepared to support the best available option to do so. The NDP are now that best option for most places in the country and deserve a chance to prove the skeptics wrong.