1. By the numbers. Stephen Harper's Conservatives are 16 points ahead of Michael Ignatieff's Liberals, according to a new poll - a huge lead that puts the Tories close to winning majority government and leaves some Grits reeling.
"The party feels like it is on the waiting list for a head transplant," one senior Liberal MP remarked after seeing the results of the latest Ipsos Reid survey. "Folks are saying if Ignatieff can't get any traction even with Oda and the charges, the public must have tuned him out."
Despite the sustained bombardment by the Liberals over allegations International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda misled Parliament and charges by Elections Canada against four senior Harper Conservatives over the so-called in-and-out campaign financing scheme, the Liberals just can't close the Tory lead.
Ipsos has the Tories at 43 per cent support - up four points from early February. The Liberals, meanwhile, are at 27 per cent, climbing two points.
The results are also not good for Jack Layton. His New Democrats are polling at 13 per cent, down five points, while the Green Party has 5 per cent support and the Bloc is at 10 per cent. One in ten voters are undecided.
A senior Ignatieff official is nonetheless putting a positive spin on the numbers, arguing they point to a "race that will be between two national parties - Liberals and Conservatives."
"The boutique parties are getting increasingly squeezed out as progressive Canadians realize that to stop Harper , the Liberal Party is the only alternative," the official told The Globe, adding it's just a matter of time before the public "becomes more aware of the serious charges of electoral fraud facing the Conservative Party."
Still, this survey - conducted for Postmedia News and Global National - is among half a dozen recent national opinion polls that have the Conservatives with a double digit lead. Ipsos Reid attributes the Tory rise to the effectiveness of the recent suite of anti-Ignatieff attack ads, positive economic reports and "the threat of an imminent election."
Ontario voters also provide the key to the strong Tory lead. According to the poll, 45 per cent of decided voters in the province would support the Conservatives compared to 33 per cent for the Liberals.
The poll of 1,000 Canadians was conducted between Feb. 23 and Feb. 27. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
And, it has the Tories playing very cautiously. Ask Conservative MPs about the poll results and they'll simply say they don't comment on polls. Some are curious, though, wondering whether these results are believable.
"Mostly, our people are skeptical of the numbers but confident overall," one Tory MP said. "Generally not much yearning for an election but no fear of one either. There is a general feeling that our support grows stronger and broader the longer we're in government."
The NDP remain an important piece of the election puzzle. Although, the Liberals and Bloc are not likely to support the Harper budget, it is not clear what Mr. Layton will do. Given this latest poll, however, the prospects of gains in a campaign do not look good for the New Democrats. Does this mean they might support the budget and keep the government in power?
"The only things that factor into our decisions are the merits of the budget," Brad Lavigne, the NDP's national campaign director, told The Globe. "We will look at the budget as a whole. We've called on Stephen Harper to ensure that there are measures in the budget that help seniors and the middle class. The ball is in his court."
2. That good old hockey game. The Harper Conservatives have now said no to helping fund a new arena for Quebec City. This, after teasing the Quebec electorate for many weeks - perhaps in a bid to ensure that not too many votes would be lost in that region.
Here is the latest Tory spin on the project:
"Today, Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume announced a partnership with the private sector in the Quebec City arena project. The private sector's share is less than 10% of the project," according to a PMO memo to MPs.
The Tory talking points note:
» Based on all precedents, the private-sector investment is clearly insufficient to consider a direct federal investment in the project.
» This request is not eligible for funding under any federal program.
» However, it is noteworthy that the project also has a major urban revitalization component in the sector where the arena will be built.
» The federal government may contribute to new infrastructure in that part of the city.
The Liberals, meanwhile, say they can't keep up with the Quebec arena saga: "Canadians have lost track of how many different positions the Harper government has taken on this issue," a senior Ignatieff official said.
"Who knows if this latest foray will last. Between the trial balloons and the infamous jersey-wearing photo-op, the Conservatives have left Canadians wondering where they stand for over six months."