Jack Layton's untimely death and the outpouring of grief that followed has driven up the NDP's popularity among voters, according to a new Nanos Research poll.
The New Democrats are closing the gap with the governing Harper Conservatives, who have also seen their support increase in this poll. Squeezed out, however, are the Liberals.
Mr. Layton's death last month gripped the nation. For a week, Canadians watched as tributes poured in and they watched, too, as thousands paid their respects as the late NDP leader lay in state on Parliament Hill and in repose at Toronto City Hall. His state funeral was broadcast live on national television.
But as the New Democrats prepare for their summer caucus retreat in Quebec City this week, they must ask themselves how they can sustain this upward momentum given the leadership vacuum.
The Nanos poll for The Globe and Mail and CTV shows the NDP with the support of 33.1 per cent of respondents compared to 26.8 per cent in last month's survey, which was taken several weeks before Mr. Layton died.
The Tories, meanwhile, are at 39.5 per cent up from 36.2 per cent in last month's poll. The Liberals are not faring well – they have 20.7 per cent, a drop of nearly seven points from last month's Nanos poll when they were statistically tied with the NDP.
"The long and the short of it is that we're back to a scenario where we have numbers that are relatively similar to the last federal election," observes Nik Nanos, president of the national polling firm.
Digging deeper into his numbers, Mr. Nanos notes some intriguing regional dynamics. The NDP, which has 59 of the 75 seats in Quebec, has the support of 48.9 per cent of Quebeckers, up from 34.2 per cent in last month's poll.
The Tories are at 18.8 per cent in the province, the Liberals have 16.1 per cent and the Bloc has 9.6-per-cent support.
As positive as the support in Quebec is for the NDP, however, Ontario is proving to be a success for the Harper Conservatives. In that province, they have the support of 46.9 per cent of poll respondents compared to 24.4 per cent for the NDP and 26.7 per cent for the Liberals.
Again, the federal Liberals have dropped considerably in Ontario over the past month. In last month's survey, they had 32.2-per-cent support; the Tories, meanwhile, had 37.9 per cent. The NDP were at 24.8 per cent.
"They're doing well," Mr. Nanos said about the Harper Conservatives. "They've picked up support in the province of Ontario, which is probably critical for them because that is where they made their big pickup in the last federal election. I think a key part of the Tory strategy is to hold what they have in Ontario."
Mr. Nanos also polled on the issue of leadership and came up with numbers he described as a "real eye opener." It is no surprise that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a commanding lead over interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel and interim Liberal leader Bob Rae. But what he found surprising is that on the issue of who is the most trustworthy leader, Ms. Turmel and Mr. Rae are trailing the "none of them" and "unsure" categories.
Thirty-one per cent of respondents think Mr. Harper is the most trustworthy leader compared to 12.3 per cent for Ms. Turmel and 11.3 per cent for Mr. Rae – 21.8 per cent are undecided and 16.4 per cent say none of them are trustworthy.
"So there are not a lot of coattails for either one of those party leaders at this particular point in time," said Mr. Nanos.
The NDP, however, is moving ahead on the leadership front. On Friday, the party announced it will hold a leadership convention in Toronto in March. The Liberals, however, are not expected to hold a convention until the spring of 2013.
"For both the NDP and Liberals, the tone and dynamic of their leadership races is probably going to have a significant impact on how Canadians view both of those parties," said Mr. Nanos. "The one upside to the NDP is that by not having a drawn-out process there are a fewer moving parts where there could be a problem."
Top potential NDP leadership contenders, Brian Topp and Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair, would not comment Sunday about their plans.
The Nanos poll of 1,210 Canadians was conducted between August 29 and September 1. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.