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morning buzz

1. The war. Stephen Harper's doubts about the mission in Afghanistan are reinforced in a new poll today showing Canadians overwhelmingly reject the American request to extend our military effort.

The EKOS survey also shows Canadians no longer support the military mission in Afghanistan - this, a day after the Prime Minister took Hamid Karzai to task for threatening to join the Taliban. It also comes on the heels of a surprising commitment by Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who is in Kabul today, to send another 90 troops for training.

The government's message is rather confusing.

"I expect the PM's new-found dovish qualities are a reflection of a sound understanding of the limits of public patience on Afghanistan in general, and the solid consensus that we should say no to any American request for extended presence," pollster Frank Graves says.

These new "dovish" qualities are in contrast to Mr. Harper's strong criticism several years ago of former prime minister Jean Chrétien's decision not to join the Bush administration's war in Iraq. That decision remains a popular legacy of the Liberal government, but at the time Mr. Harper was vehemently opposed.

Mr. Graves's latest numbers show that 60 per cent of Canadians oppose extending Canada's role in Afghanistan; 28 per cent supported an extension.

The breakdown among political parties and gender is interesting: 76 per cent of Bloc voters are opposed compared to 75 per cent of NDP supporters and 66 per cent of women voters.

Those who support it: 37 per cent of Albertans; 36 per cent of Conservative voters and 35 per cent of men.

"Unlike the continued support for the existing mission amongst CPC supporters, the American request for continued Canadian participation is rejected by supporters of all parties and in very clear terms," Mr. Graves notes.

The poll question about extending the mission was inspired by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's bold request in a CTV interview last week for Canada to remain in Afghanistan past its 2011 deadline. The Harper government has repeatedly said the military mission will not be extended past that date.

"It is mildly surprising that the PM would be so rapid and definitive to the latest request from Hillary Clinton to extend our presence," Mr. Graves says. "Given this previous, very hawkish, pro-American position why the immediate cold water to Hillary?

"I have no idea if it has anything to do with a Democratic rather than Republican administration making the request. What I do know is that the proposal has clearly found little favour with Canadians."

Indeed, Mr. Graves also asked about the military mission and whether Canadians still support it. They don't.

And this is a real shift, he says, from the "initial stages of the mission where we saw clear majority support (more than 60 per cent) to the middle stages when everything was highly divided (under 50 per cent)."

Today's poll found that 49 per cent of respondents oppose the Afghanistan mission compared to 36 per cent who still support it; 14 per cent say they don't know.

Again the opposition to the mission is highest among Bloc supporters (75 per cent) and NDP voters (62 per cent); as well, 62 per cent of Quebeckers do not support the mission and neither do 60 per cent of Green Party voters nor 55 per cent of women.

Compare this to those who support the mission: 50 per cent of Albertans; 48 per cent of Conservative voters and 45 per cent of men.

The EKOS poll of 909 Canadians was conducted between March 31 and April 6. It is a smaller sample than the usual EKOS weekly poll as research was not conducted Good Friday or Easter Monday. The results are accurate plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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2. The horse race. Today's EKOS poll shows little movement on the voter intention front. As Mr. Graves says the political scene "remains frozen."

Support for the Harper Tories is at 33.6 per cent compared to 27.3 per cent for the Liberals; 15.9 per cent for the NDP; 11.7 for the Green Party and 9.6 per cent for the Bloc Quebecois.

A Harris Decima poll this week showed similar numbers: 32 per cent support for the Conservatives; 29 per cent for the Liberals with the NDP at 17 per cent and the Green Party at 11.