Most Canadians are aware that the Prime Minister has suspended Parliament until after the winter Olympics and they are, by and large, not pleased with the decision, polls released Thursday suggest.
Although there was strong suspicion among pundits and Parliament watchers that Canadians would pay little attention to the prorogation announced by Stephen Harper's office, two-thirds of respondents to an EKOS poll this week said they knew about the move - 52 per cent of them saying they were "clearly aware."
And, among those who said they know that Parliament will not sit again until early March, the margin of disapproval is two to one.
"This has morphed out of dusty constitutional law texts into the mainstream of public opinion," EKOS president Frank Graves said. "The public decisively say they are familiar with this and, when you go on to find out what they think about it, they're opposed and they tend to concentrate in the strongly opposed category."
Nearly two-thirds of the 1,744 respondents to the EKOS poll agreed with the statement: "The elected House of Parliament is the proper place to conduct the business of the nation and suspending Parliament is antidemocratic."
The Conservatives have given the opposition a two-month opportunity to attack the government without leaving themselves much or an opportunity to change the page, Mr. Graves said.
Meanwhile, an Angus Reid online poll also released Thursday suggests prorogation has been rejected even by Conservative supporters. Thirty-five per cent of respondents who voted Conservative in the last election said they disagree with the decision to suspend Parliament.
Not surprisingly, the move was panned even more decisively by supporters of the opposition parties.
Across the country, 53 per cent of the 1,019 respondents to the Angus Reid poll said they disagreed with prorogation. That compares to the 19 per cent who said they supported it. About 28 per cent were undecided.
The rejection of the decision to suspend Parliament was highest in Ontario (59 per cent) and lowest in the Prairies (50 per cent in Alberta, 48 per cent in Manitoba and Saskatchewan).
Two in five Canadians who took part in the Angus Reid poll said they believe prorogation was invoked in order to curtail an inquiry into the treatment of Afghan detainees. About one quarter of respondents (23 per cent) agreed with the federal government's position that prorogation was necessary to recalibrate, consult and deliver the next stage of the economic plan.
The EKOS poll also suggests the issue has eroded the strong base of Conservative support that has, at times in the past year, seen the party skirt majority territory.
Just 33.1 per cent of respondents said they would mark their ballots for the Conservatives if the election were held this week.
While close to the margin of error, that's a drop of 2.8 per cent since December. And it means the Tory lead over the Liberals, which was as high as 15 percentage points in October, is now about 5.
"Those are the worst numbers we've seen for them in at least six months," said Mr. Graves.
"It's very difficult to attribute it to anything other than prorogation because it was a period when nothing much else was happening."
The drop for the Tories suggested in the EKOS poll has not been a boon to the other parties. The Liberals climbed by just 1.1 per cent to 27.8 per cent in voter support. The NDP actually fell a little to 16 per cent. The Bloc Quebecois remained virtually unchanged at 9.8 per cent. And the Greens saw a slight increase of 2.2 per cent, which brought them to 13.4 per cent.
But Mr. Graves said the numbers suggest that Canadians know what prorogation means and are not happy about it. And the Conservatives should be worried.
"Clearly this has hit a nerve," he said.
Mr. Harper and his party "must be hearing footsteps," the pollster said. "Instead of pondering how their majority is going to work out, they are closer to sitting on the other side of the House."
A poll of this size is expected to reflect the opinions of all Canadians within 2.4 percentage points 19 times in 20.
It suggests that support for the Conservatives is once again spiralling downward in Quebec, where just under 15 per cent of respondents said they would vote for Mr. Harper's party. EKOS attributes that to three factors: the detainee issue (as well as broader opposition to the Afghanistan mission), disappointment with the perceived tepid federal performance on the climate change file, and lingering fallout from the gun registry.
But their troubles don't stop there. They have also lost their double digit lead in Ontario and the poll suggests that the Liberals are ahead in Ontario for the first time in several months.
(Photo: Security guards stand outside the closed doors to the House of Commons on January 6, 2009. Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)