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Justin Trudeau tops ‘starting grid’ Liberal leadership poll

Liberal MP Justin Trudeau makes his way across the front lawn of Parliament Hill on June 19, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A new poll suggests Canadians would be almost twice as likely to vote Liberal with Justin Trudeau at the helm than with other lesser-known prospective candidates for the federal party's leadership.

The Harris-Decima survey conducted for The Canadian Press indicates 33 per cent would be certain or likely to vote Liberal if the party was led by the Montreal MP and eldest son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

That's considerably more than the vote-drawing power demonstrated by nine other putative contenders, who polled between 10 and 18 per cent.

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The poll appears four months before the race is set to officially begin and before any candidate has actually entered the contest.

Doug Anderson, Harris-Decima's senior vice-president, says the impressions of the various possible contenders are "undoubtedly soft" and could change dramatically once the contest is actually under way.

Consequently, he says the results are useful only as "a sort of starting grid" of public opinion, by which to measure the progress of the race.

The telephone poll of just more than 1,000 respondents was conducted June 14-18, and is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

Mr. Trudeau initially ruled himself out of the contest but pressure has mounted on him to change his mind since Bob Rae's surprise announcement last week that he will not seek to turn his job as interim leader into a permanent gig.

With his youth, telegenic looks and family pedigree, Mr. Trudeau is the highest profile federal Liberal in the country. The poll results likely reflect recognition of his name as much as any perceived leadership qualities.

The poll tested the initial appeal of nine other putative contenders, with Montreal MP Marc Garneau placing a distant second to Mr. Trudeau. Eighteen per cent said they'd be certain or likely to vote Liberal if Canada's first astronaut took the helm.

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Another Montreal MP, Denis Coderre, came in at 17 per cent; former cabinet minister John Manley and former MP Gerard Kennedy at 16 per cent each; Ottawa MP David McGuinty at 15 per cent; Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney at 14 per cent; New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc at 13 per cent; former MP Martha Hall Findlay at 12 per cent; and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi at 10 per cent.

Mr. Manley has ruled out running while the candidacies of Mr. Carney and Mr. Nenshi fall into the category of wishful thinking by Liberals desperate to find prominent stars to help restore their once-mighty party to its former glory.

The Liberals were reduced to a third-party rump in the 2011 election, surpassed by the ascendant NDP for the first time in history. Michael Ignatieff lost his own seat and resigned as leader almost immediately.

The poll suggests Mr. Trudeau has the greatest early potential to maintain the Liberals' current support and draw support from other parties. Even so, 67 per cent of respondents said they'd be unlikely to vote Liberal – a number that rose to 82-89 per cent with other possible contenders at the helm.

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