The NDP is still leading the country in popular support, but the party's high numbers in Quebec overshadow the fact it is losing momentum to the Liberal Party in the rest of Canada, a Léger poll has found.
The survey of 2,119 Canadians suggests the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau has been growing in popular support in recent weeks, especially in the key battleground of Ontario. The province not only has the most seats, but also the largest potential for vote swings that could determine the election.
Pollster Jean-Marc Léger said the new poll numbers, published for the first time in The Globe and Mail, suggest Canada is headed toward a minority government at this point, and that a clear majority of voters want a new prime minister on Oct. 19. The question is whether Mr. Trudeau or NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair will "grab the moment," he said.
The New Democratic Party has the support of 31 per cent of respondents at the national level, ahead of the Liberals at 30 per cent and Stephen Harper's Conservative Party at 28 per cent. However, Mr. Léger said the Liberals have picked up one point a week during the campaign, closing the gap with the NDP nationally.
In Ontario, Léger has the Liberals at 37 per cent, ahead of the Conservatives (28 per cent) and the NDP (27 per cent). In Quebec, on the other hand, the NDP is a dominant force (46 per cent), far ahead of the Liberals (20 per cent), the Bloc Québécois (18 per cent) and the Conservatives (13 per cent).
"The NDP has started to plateau, and even started to fall back," Mr. Léger said of the national numbers. "The NDP's rise in support has been limited by the Ontario wall – they aren't breaking through in Ontario."
The poll was conducted between Monday and Wednesday of this week as Canadians learned that the country was in a recession in the first half of the year, but before the Syrian refugee crisis came to dominate the campaign. Last month, the trial of Senator Mike Duffy on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery was a prominent topic.
"Once you factor in the Duffy trial, there are a lot of negative stories weighing on the Conservative Party's shoulders," Mr. Léger said.
He added that, in his view, the first month of the campaign was about one major issue: "Do you want to keep the current government?"
Given that 64 per cent of respondents said they would "prefer a change of government" in this election, Mr. Léger said the key question is now: "Who should be the next prime minister?"
"Only 24 per cent of the respondents said they want the current government to be re-elected, which is less than the Conservative Party's current level of support," Mr. Léger said.
He said The Globe and Mail leaders' debate on the economy that will be held on Sept. 17 in Calgary will come as Canadians start solidifying their voting intentions.
"The Sept. 17 debate will come at a key point. Will there be a Trudeau moment? Will he show that he is strong enough?" Mr. Léger said. "The same question will be asked of Mr. Mulcair."
So far, the Léger poll suggests support for the NDP remains relatively softer than that of its rivals. Nearly half (49 per cent) of NDP voters said they could still change their minds, which is more than Liberal voters (41 per cent).
On the other hand, only 29 per cent of Conservative voters said they could still change their minds.
Mr. Léger added that New Democrat supporters are the most likely, at 42 per cent, to say they will be "voting against another party" in this election, compared with 31 per cent for Liberal voters. He said this suggests that more NDP supporters are "strategic voters" who could shift to another party depending on the evolution of the election campaign.
The online poll is deemed to be accurate within 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Léger polled 1,010 of its 2,119 respondents in Quebec to obtain a clearer picture of the province, but weighted the responses based on the province's share of the Canadian population for its national numbers.