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nik nanos

Pollster Nik Nanos.The Globe and Mail

Nik Nanos is The Globe and Mail's pollster and chairman of Nanos Research.

A year is truly a lifetime in Canadian politics.

Last summer at this time the parties were gridlocked and Justin Trudeau was the third choice as prime minister. Fast forward and the Liberals won a majority victory in the election, and the federal opposition parties are now in transition or disarray.

Right now, the once-third-place choice for prime minister is a commanding presence. Rona Ambrose, the interim Conservative leader, does not track as well as Stephen Harper, and Tom Mulcair's score as preferred prime minister is down from 25 per cent a year ago to 9 per cent.

There are lessons for all the federal parties.

Yes, the Liberals are strong but their strength is also a function of the weakness of the opposition parties. Are the Trudeau Liberals doing well in the polls? Certainly. Is the magnitude of their advantage impressive? For sure. The kicker is that the "sunny ways" of Mr. Trudeau have killed the opposition parties with kindness. The opposition uses yesterday's tried-and-true negative tactics to tear down the government and the Liberals respond with a smile.

The reality for the Liberals is that their extended honeymoon is a result of delivering on change of tone and policy and the weakness of the opposition. Expect the advantage to continue until the opposition parties select leaders and present a potential solid counterpoint to the Trudeau Liberals. Until then we can expect a continuation of the Liberal ascendancy in the polls. It will be important for the Liberals, however, to not confuse strength today with strength in the future.

For the Conservatives, they need to take note of what is propelling the Liberals because it is a combination of personality, positive attitude and principle. Mr. Trudeau's persona now looms large, not only over the Liberal Party but over the electorate. Since the election, he has been in perpetual motion at home and internationally, engaging people and advancing his vision for Canada.

The lesson for the Conservatives is that not only do they need a leader but they need a leader that can connect with voters beyond the Conservative core. The Conservatives should not confuse their core under Mr. Harper with the Conservative core today.

Right now the Nanos tracking suggests that only a little more than one of three Canadians would even consider voting Conservative. This suggests that the Conservatives are on the political menu for fewer and fewer Canadians. Their leadership renewal process could be the most critical juncture in the fortunes of the Conservative movement in decades. The Tories need to re-energize, refocus and renew their Conservative platform to take on the Trudeau government.

The New Democrats likely have the most difficult task ahead. From a policy perspective, the Trudeau Liberals have eaten the NDP lunch, bringing non-Conservative progressives under the Trudeau Liberal banner.

The NDP need two things to happen – they need to redefine their space and they need the Liberal government to fail – if they are to recapture the progressive voters lost in the 2015 election. Part of the fortunes of the NDP rest in the hands of Mr. Trudeau. If the Liberals govern well and continue on their progressive policies, the NDP may find itself in the political wilderness as long as Mr. Trudeau is Prime Minister.

The latest kicker in the saga of the opposition parties are the open musings of Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party, over policy disagreements with her own party. The irony is that the greatest asset of the Greens is Ms. May herself. She is passionate in her views, well briefed on the issues and engages like a hardened opposition leader.

And then there is the Bloc Québécois. Just off a disappointing federal election – the PQ leadership in Quebec is going through a transition, the BQ is also in transition.

The key conclusions? All of the opposition parties are in an exceptional state of disarray. The Liberals smile and govern in the absence of an alternative from any party. Perhaps the key lesson is that this exceptional time will end and eventually the true strength of all the parties, including the Liberals, will emerge.