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Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair vote on the Conservative government’s omnibus budget legislation in this June 24, 2012 combination photo from the House of Commons. (Reuters and The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair vote on the Conservative government’s omnibus budget legislation in this June 24, 2012 combination photo from the House of Commons. (Reuters and The Canadian Press)

Tory EI reform, NDP oil-sands barbs lay bare regional split in polls Add to ...

Conservative changes to Employment Insurance and the debate over Thomas Mulcair’s “Dutch disease” comments appear to be moving the voting intentions of Canadians, as the Tories have dropped in the East and the NDP is down in the West, according to the latest polls.

Since late April, New Democrats have increased their support by 2.3 points to 35.2 per cent in ThreeHundredEight.com’s weighted average of all available polling data. This puts them narrowly ahead of the Conservatives, who are down 1.2 points to 32.8 per cent. The Liberals, at 20.9 per cent, are down 0.8 points since the last projection of Apr. 28.

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Though Mr. Mulcair was talking about Canada’s resource development strategy long before he even became NDP Leader at the end of March, it was only in the past six weeks that national attention turned to his comments. Criticized by the premiers of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, Mr. Mulcair visited the oil sands and has not backed away from his position, which was recently bolstered by an OECD report.

There is little sign the criticisms are having much of an effect in British Columbia, where the New Democrats hold a lead of 40 per cent to 32.6 per cent for the Conservatives. Since the end of April, the gap has even widened between the two parties by almost five points.

But in Alberta and the Prairie provinces (Saskatchewan and Manitoba), the NDP has taken a bit of a tumble. Support fell 3.3 points to 18.6 per cent in Alberta and by 1.4 points in the Prairies to 35.4 per cent. This has primarily benefited the Conservatives, who lead in the Prairies with 43.5 per cent and in Alberta with 58.7 per cent, an improvement on the 54 to 57 per cent support they were polling at in that province between February and April.

The Tory defense of the oil industry out West, however, may have contributed to some losses for the party in Ontario. The manufacturing sector has been hit hard in that province, and it is to workers in the industry that Mr. Mulcair has been targeting his Dutch-disease message.

Though the Conservatives still lead in the seat-rich province, their support has slipped by 1.8 points to 36.1 per cent. The NDP has also taken advantage of a slide by the Liberals to pick up more than three points since the end of April. The Offoical Opposition has the support of 32.4 per cent of Ontarians according to the poll aggregation, a significant gain for a party that has never consistently polled over 30 per cent in the province’s recent history.

And while the Conservatives are looking flat in Ontario, things have turned sour in Atlantic Canada. Earlier this month, the four Atlantic premiers criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government for not consulting with them on changes to EI and have called for special exemptions for their seasonal industries. In that context, it is perhaps not surprising to see the Tories flirting with third place in Atlantic Canada with only 28.8 per cent support, down 1.5 points since the end of April.

While that is not a catastrophic slip, it is part of a steady rate of decline for the party in the region. The Conservatives led by a wide margin in Atlantic Canada on election night, and maintained that lead in the polls straight through to December of 2011. Since then, their support has dropped but they were still challenging for the lead as recently as March. In fact, with 39.1 per cent support the 10-point lead the NDP currently holds over the Tories is the largest that any party has held in the region since January of 2011.

But the Tories have traded losses to the NDP on the coasts and in Ontario for gains in the West, causing little change in the overall picture since the end of April. Were an election held today, the Conservatives would likely win 133 seats and have the first crack at a minority government. The NDP would likely win 123 seats and the Liberals 49, giving the opposition parties a combined total of 172 seats (more than the Tories currently hold) and putting them in a position to govern with a majority – if they were so inclined. The Bloc Québécois would hold on to half of their four seats and the Greens would still have Elizabeth May in the House of Commons.

The debates over resource development and changes to EI have been charged with rhetoric, and it is difficult to know for certain whether this is resonating with Canadians. But the polls do provide some indication as to the delicate balancing act Mr. Harper and Mr. Mulcair are playing with the different regions of the country. It is an act that is likely to continue for the next three years.

ThreeHundredEight.com’s projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm’s accuracy record. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all 308 ridings in the country, based on the provincial and regional shifts in support since the 2011 election and including the application of factors unique to each riding, such as the effects of incumbency. Projections are subject to the margins of error of the opinion polls included in the model, as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level.

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