With Michael Ignatieff's Liberals insisting nothing will stop them from forcing an election, a new survey shows them trailing the Conservatives nationally by five percentage points and continuing their slide down the polling ratings in Quebec.
The survey, conducted by Strategic Counsel for CTV and The Globe and Mail, puts Conservative support at 35 per cent of voters. The Liberals are at 30 per cent. The NDP are at 14, the Greens at 9 and the Bloc Québécois at 12.
Strategic Counsel partner Peter Donolo said Monday that it is clear Mr. Ignatieff has not yet made a compelling case for change with Canadians.
And he said the Liberals so far haven't done what they need to do to win an election - which is to push down the NDP vote, polarize the electorate and portray their leader as the default candidate for those who don't like Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"The NDP support is close to what it was in the last election. It's 14," Mr. Donolo said. "They need to decrease that number to 10."
Strategic Counsel's results for Quebec look even more sour for the Liberals - indeed, for all the federal parties - with the Bloc at its highest standing, 49 per cent, since the 2004 election outcome.
There isn't anything in the two federalist parties right now that a lot of Quebeckers would be attracted to. Antonia Maioni, McGill University
Quebec voters had a brief fling of interest in Mr. Ignatieff after he took over his party's leadership earlier this year, but Strategic Counsel shows support for him in the province has declined steadily since, from a high of 37 per cent in May to 23 per cent in the latest poll, taken between Sept. 3 and 6.
The Conservatives stand at 16 per cent in Quebec.
In Ontario, the two major parties are more or less tied (Conservatives 41, Liberals 39) with NDP support at a limp 11 per cent, two points ahead of the Greens. Across the West, the Conservatives have a commanding lead of 43 per cent, the Liberals are at 24 per cent, the NDP at 22 per cent and the Greens at 11.
The poll has a margin of error nationally of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. For the regions it is higher. The number sampled in Atlantic Canada is too small to provide reliable numbers.
Antonia Maioni, director of McGill University's Institute for the Study of Canada, said Quebeckers still see the Bloc as une valeur sûre - a sure bet - to represent them in Ottawa, a party they know and respect and with which even those who aren't sovereigntist are comfortable.
"There isn't anything in the two federalist parties right now that a lot of Quebeckers would be attracted to," she said. "The Liberal brand is still damaged goods [from the sponsorship scandal]and there is nothing that's compelling about Mr. Ignatieff's message that changes that for a lot of Quebeckers."
University of Montreal political scientist Pierre Martin said that without a strong Quebec Liberal contingent that would clearly distinguish the party from the team at the time of the sponsorship scandal, "it's hard to revive the label."
"And this summer … they didn't do anything," he said. "They were not on the landscape. You might have expected them to announce a series of high-profile candidates so as to keep in the public eye. But they didn't. They sort of blew the summer away."
Added Mr. Donolo: "The poll results illustrate why the Liberals are in a Catch-22 position.
"As long as they continue having to prop up the government, they're unable to differentiate themselves and make the case for change. Therefore, they have no momentum in the polls. But the only way to break out of this may be to start voting against the government and trigger an election in a situation where they're behind."
Liberal internal polling is somewhat more positive, showing the two major parties running neck and neck, and the Liberals plan what one party strategist yesterday called a major "communications arc" through September aimed at raising their leader's profile.
The "arc" began with a series of TV advertisements - more aggressively anti-Conservative in Quebec - released over the Labour Day weekend.