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Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty takes questions from reporters at a Toronto construction site on March 7, 2012. (Michelle Siu/Michelle Siu/The Canadian Press)
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty takes questions from reporters at a Toronto construction site on March 7, 2012. (Michelle Siu/Michelle Siu/The Canadian Press)

McGuinty's advantage over Hudak increases amid talk of cuts, poll finds Add to ...

The Drummond report, with its sweeping measures of how to put Ontario’s fiscal house in order, did not put a dent in the Liberal government’s popularity. In fact, support for the Grits remains high as their advantage over the Tories increases, a new poll shows.

Progressive Conservative support came in around 30 per cent, down from a pre-election high last year of 42.1 per cent when they were ahead of the Liberals, who were at 37.6 per cent. Now, the roles have reversed with Dalton McGuinty’s team sitting at 39.9 per cent, according to the latest Nanos Research numbers.

Support for the Ontario NDP, meanwhile, has seen incremental increases from 16.2 per cent during the last election to 24.7 per cent this year – a new high for Andrea Horwath.

Pollster Nik Nanos says the report by economist Don Drummond drove home the message for Ontarians that the province has to curb spending. This “tough medicine” approach has, somewhat counter-intuitively, helped the Mr. McGuinty.

“The Liberals are benefiting from the tough talk, but also the default position that if there are cuts, they will be done in a compassionate way,” Mr. Nanos told the Globe.

“For a government that really had to deal with increased spending on a number of different files, the fact that it sponsored the report has helped them in the short-term at least,” Mr. Nanos said. “What it has done for voters who think the Liberals might be big spenders based on their track record in the past, right now it’s more of mixed bag where cynical voters might be thinking [...]maybe the McGuinty government can cut spending.”

Nanos Research surveyed 500 Ontarians by phone between March 3 and 5. The poll is accurate plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The Drummond report has stolen the thunder from Mr. Hudak, Mr. Nanos said, because the PC Leader is now in the awkward position of having to agree with the cuts or move further to the right.

The pollster contrasts this boost in popularity for the provincial Liberals with the federal Conservatives, who are being hammered by opposition parties and public outcry over pension cuts that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called necessary to ensure long-term fiscal health.

Support for the federal Tories remained exactly the same – at 35.7 per cent – compared to a month earlier, according to a Nanos poll conducted last month.

“And this is where politics become unfair,” Mr. Nanos said. “... If people see a Conservative government cutting spending, they will believe the Conservatives like to do that – that they want cuts for the sake of cuts, but that’s just the lens many voters view the political parties.”

This week’s poll also showed that Ontarians think Mr. McGuinty is the most trustworthy leader , followed by Mr. Hudak and the NDP’s Ms. Horwath, but one of five voters are unsure who to trust. Health care remains the top issue for voters, but concern over the economy and deficit has climbed in the past four months.

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