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Conservative Leader Stephen Harper waves as he disembarks his campaign plane with his wife, Laureen, in Comox, B.C. on April 23, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper waves as he disembarks his campaign plane with his wife, Laureen, in Comox, B.C. on April 23, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Nanos Poll

Strength in Ontario puts 'squeaker of a majority' within Harper's reach Add to ...

With one week left in the federal election campaign, Stephen Harper's Conservatives are 14 points ahead of Michael Ignatieff's Liberals and on track to squeeze out a majority government, according to the latest Nanos Research poll.

Jack Layton's New Democrats continue to hold on to their new-found strength in Quebec -and as a result are showing strong numbers nationally. There is even some speculation they could overtake the Liberals and become the Official Opposition.

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Nationally, the NDP is statistically tied for second place with the Liberals. But another story is emerging out of Ontario, where they are running third; the party's surge in Quebec and other regions has not given it a similar bump in Ontario.

Pollster Nik Nanos sees this as a boon for the Tories - one that could well provide the Conservatives a route to that coveted majority.

"Talk about Jack Layton in Stornoway has actually helped the Conservatives in Ontario," Mr. Nanos said Monday. "The Conservatives best chance to win a majority is in Ontario. If their numbers hold or start ramping up in Ontario that could be good news for the Conservatives. One of the scenarios that we could be looking at now is a squeaker of a majority government."

No surprise then, that Mr. Harper is campaigning Monday in NDP-held ridings in the province, in Windsor and Sault Ste. Marie.

Nationally, the Conservatives are 39.2 per cent support compared to 25.6 for the Liberals and 23.6 per cent for the NDP. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

But Mr. Nanos is looking to regional data for the real story of how election night could play out.

In Quebec, the NDP is numerically ahead of the Bloc now - but still statistically tied - with 30.2 per cent compared to 27.4 per cent for Gilles Duceppe's Bloc Québécois. The Liberals are at 22 per cent and the Tories have 14.1 per cent. (There is a margin of error of plus or minus 6.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, for the provincial sample.)

For the NDP the story is much different in Ontario. "Improved NDP fortunes across Canada have not materialized in gains within battleground Ontario over the holiday weekend," Mr. Nanos said. "Support for the NDP is comparable to the 2008 election, factoring in the margin of error"

The NDP is at 16.9 per cent support in Ontario compared to 47.8 per cent support for the Conservatives and 29.3 per cent for the Liberals. That's Mr. Ignatieff's lowest level of support in the province since the election began and Mr. Nanos said Mr. Harper has been the main beneficiary of the Grit slide. (The margin of error is plus or minus 5.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

Mr. Nanos said Ontarians are "likely to be concerned about the economy" and Mr. Harper's "scaremongering about the New Democrats spending money in a province that has been battered by the recession" is weighing on the NDP in the province.

"The thing is when we look across the country Ontario is the province that is the best candidate for the Conservatives to pick up their seats," Mr. Nanos said. There are 106 seats on the table; the Tories had 51 at dissolution compared to 37 for the Liberals, 17 for the NDP and one Independent.

Mr. Nanos noted there are only 32 seats in the four Atlantic provinces, there is "unlikely to be any significant pick-up for the Conservatives in Quebec," the Tories are strong in the Prairies and British Columbia may end up being "a wash."

"And that brings it all down to the Ontario," he said. "If there is a majority government for the Conservatives it will be delivered in the province of Ontario."

The three-day rolling poll of 1,023 Canadians was conducted on April 21, April 23 and April 24. Nanos Research did not poll on Good Friday. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage point, 19 times out of 20.

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