In this curious world that is minority government politics, the Tories are attacking a pollster for delivering a survey that shows them well in front of the Liberals - and close to majority status. And now EKOS Research president Frank Graves is fighting back.
"We have never in ANY way falsified, tweaked or spun a poll in any way - ever," Mr. Graves wrote in an email to The Globe. "Sometimes things go awry but it is never by design and I am very confident that this most recent poll is accurate within the margins of error."
On Friday, Mr. Graves released a poll showing Stephen Harper's Conservatives with a 12.5-point lead over Michael Ignatieff's Liberals. The 37.3 per cent to 24.8 per cent spread is the biggest lead for the Tories since last fall.
Although one would think there would be cheers and high fives all around in the PMO and the party office, it was anything but. Conservative party strategists immediately circulated a memo cautioning their troops not to comment on this poll or any polls.
The memo said the EKOS results were " inconsistent with our internal polling and other recent published surveys."
"In the past pollsters have sometimes reported support for our Party that is unusually high relative to the prevailing data, only to have the anomaly corrected in a subsequent poll, giving the artificial impression of negative momentum," said the memo.
That Mr. Graves is not popular among Harper Tories is likely fuelling this dim view of his work. The pollster was accused last year of having a Liberal bias and advising Mr. Ignatieff to provoke a so-called culture war in his fight against the Conservatives.
He has denied working for the Liberals or any political party and he dismisses the Conservative slap-down of his poll as a "paranoid conspiracy theory' and a "byzantine scheme."
Mr. Graves noted that neither he nor any reputable pollster would commit "professional and commercial suicide" by making a poll "look 'artificially high,' for purposes of showing a spurious bounce back the next time."
He said his latest numbers are merely picking up improved Conservative fortunes dating back to November when they "gradually began to open up a gently widening lead over the LPC."
The EKOS poll from two weeks ago showed an eight-point gap - "So we didn't go from near tie to a 12-point lead," he said.
He attributed the bounce in part to recent negative ads characterizing the Liberal Leader as power hungry. In addition, he said there is a growing confidence in the direction the government is taking the country.
"What is clear is the opposition posturing on the election seems to have once again been linked to a decline in their fortunes," he noted. "Maybe asking Canadians to think whether or not they are better off today that when Stephen Harper took office [five years ago]wasn't ideally timed in the midst of a significant recovery of confidence in the country," Mr. Graves said, referring to recent Liberal attempts to frame a campaign around that question.
His prediction from this poll? Mr. Harper would likely win 154 seats - exactly half of the 308 in the House of Commons and one shy of a majority.