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August 3, 2005
Summer Brings Few Changes In Canadian Politics

Now that Canadians have avoided the dreaded summer election, it appears that the tug-and-pull of electoral politics has also taken a seasonal break. According to a new poll from Environics, almost no change at all has taken place in support for the main parties since the pre-Gomery period:

This latest survey shows that, nationally, 34 percent of eligible and decided Canadian voters would support the Liberal Party if an election were held today, compared with 36 percent in the March-April period (this difference falls well within the margin of sampling error). The Conservative Party now has the support of 31 percent (versus 30%), while the New Democratic Party is also holding steady at 20 percent (versus 19%). One in ten (11%) Canadian voters remain undecided about which party might deserve their support (down from 13%).

Across the country, party preferences have moved modestly in some regions. The Liberals have lost some ground in Quebec and on the Prairies, and widened their lead in the Toronto area. The Conservatives have made gains across western Canada where they had been losing ground in previous surveys. The NDP has suffered some losses in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The BQ continues to hold a massive lead in the province of Quebec.

The movement in this poll from the early spring falls, as the report states, well within the margin of error. The effect of the Gomery inquiry and the explosive nature of the Brault testimony seems to have dissipated since the series of skillful Liberal manuevers kept control of the government in the hands of PM Paul Martin. The numbers also appear to underscore a lack of progress for Tory leader Stephen Harper in his outreach tour, but at least shows that he has not lost ground, either.

Taking a longer view, however, the Liberals should worry about their election prospects. They may have done better to hold the snap elections this summer, before Judge Gomery issues what might turn out to be a very difficult report. In the past five quarters, the Liberal position has eroded by five points, which falls outside the margin of error and demonstrates a long-term slippage. In April 2004, the Tories trailed the Grits by ten points; now the gap has shrunk to three -- again, on the perimeter of the margin of error. Conservatives could have pulled even had they absorbed all of the Liberal loss, but the five points spread itself to the NDP and the undecideds.

The same trend shows itself among party leadership. Martin has dropped significantly, by a whopping nine points in fifteen months. Unfortunately, Harper only picked up two of those points, and actually now sits at his peak approval -- which is the same as it was in the last poll. Jack Layton benefits the most from Martin's drop, going up eight points over the same period, although it appears the April 2004 poll may have been an outlier.

Despite his steep losses, Martin still outpolls Harper by nine points and Layton by fourteen. Ironically, however, both Harper and Martin have lost a third of their approval ratings during that time, while Layton and BQ leader Giles Duceppe have seen theirs soar; the latter enjoys a 64% approval rating even though only 9% consider him the best choice for PM.

Odd results, no?

Canadians seem rather torn on the direction they want their nation to move. A new Liberal-driven minority government seems the most likely if elections get called, but Layton and the NDP will once again play kingmaker. BQ will probably fall short of pushing the NDP aside and allowing a Tory-BQ minority government to form.

The best possible result at this point would come after a damaging report from Judge Gomery, one that clearly reviews all of the testimony and evidence. Unfortunately, that won't come until next winter, perhaps even the early spring of '06. Unless Stephen Harper can capture the imagination of Canadians and change the electoral calculus significantly, an election may do the Tories little good at all.

Addendum: For readers unfamiliar with the mechanics of Canadian elections, the national preferences will not mirror the split of seats in Parliament. Anything above 40% will likely gain a party the majority in the Commons, due to multiple-candidate ballots in most ridings. BQ's 11% will win them more seats than NDP's 20%, or close to it, because BQ concentrates all of its support in Quebec, where NDP's support comes from a spread across the nation. It's similar to national polling numbers for American presidential elections -- a good guidepost, but the state-by-state polls really tell the story here.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 3, 2005 9:39 PM

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