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We know who is suffering because of the Senate expenses scandal: Stephen Harper. But who is benefiting? The answer could be Thomas Mulcair.
NDP strategists predicted that the honeymoon for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau would be heady but brief. Once voters were confronted with his inexperience and alleged lack of depth, the reasoning went, support for the NDP would return.
But Mr. Trudeau's popularity has had staying power. Since winning the leadership last spring he has led in popular support in most polls, with Stephen Harper's Conservatives in second and the NDP reduced to its traditional status of third party.
The one bit of good news for Mr. Mulcair is that support for the NDP has remained consistently above 20 per cent, while the NDP under his predecessors typically polled below it. The NDP's old ceiling, the party hopes, is its new floor.
And then along came the Senate scandal. Mr. Mulcair's performance has been, at times, dazzling. His questions in Question Period are brief, precise and razor sharp. Sometimes the Prime Minister has equaled his new nemesis; more often, including Tuesday, Mr. Harper looked like he would rather be anywhere else in the world than on the floor of the House of Commons, which is probably the case.
Mr. Trudeau on the other hand, has been relatively flat on his feet. He lacks Mr. Mulcair's ability to project coiled but controlled anger–and since anger is exactly what the public feels toward the government, right now, the Leader of the Official Opposition is besting the Leader of the Third Party in the House.
There's another problem. Everyone knows the Conservative position on Senate reform: Elect senators to fixed terms. Everyone knows the NDP position: Abolish the Senate completely. What is the Liberal position? Mr. Trudeau has mentioned that he'd like to improve the appointment process. But I've been unable to find anything, either through Google, the Factiva news data base, or the party's website, that explains the Liberal position.
And of course, there is also the uncomfortable fact that one of the disgraced senators, Mac Harb, was a Liberal before he departed the caucus and then resigned. The Auditor General is now going over every senator's books. There may be both Liberal and Conservative senators having trouble getting to sleep at night. Happily for the NDP, the party has long boycotted appointments to the Upper House.
Add it all up, and it would make sense to see the NDP doing better in the polls. Until recently, however, there has been little evidence of it. Though Mr. Mulcair has done all the heavy lifting, Mr. Trudeau has reaped the benefit. Voters angry at the Conservatives may be going with the leader they see most likely to replace Mr. Harper as prime minister.
A Forum poll on Ontario voter intentions released Tuesday had the NDP down at 21 per cent in Ontario, with the Liberals at 36 per cent and the Tories at 33 per cent.
But an Ekos poll released the same day, while it continues to have the Liberals well out in front of both the Tories and the NDP, puts Mr. Mulcair's job approval rating ahead of Mr. Trudeau's and far, far ahead Mr. Harper's.
If the Ekos job approval numbers are a leading indicator, the Senate expenses scandal, as well as damaging the Conservatives, might also signal the end of the Liberal honeymoon and the beginning of a renaissance for the NDP.
If so, Mr. Mulcair will have earned it. He's the best politician in the House of Commons, right now, by a country mile.