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'Guergisized' Tories fall back into tie with Liberals Add to ...

Helena Guergis and her husband Rahim Jaffer are doing what Michael Ignatieff's Liberals could not - shake up the electorate and provoke a Tory slide, according to a new poll.

And now there is growing speculation of a snap election if life becomes even more difficult for Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

The latest EKOS numbers show the Tories statistically tied with the Liberals after weeks of what pollster Frank Graves describes as "entrenched gridlock."

"The resignation and controversy around Helena Guergis and her husband seems to have jumpstarted a moribund electorate in a way that ideas and debate could not," he says.

His survey this week gives the Conservatives 31.4 per cent support - a drop of slightly more than two points since last week. The Liberals have 29 per cent - an increase of two points.The NDP are at 16.4 per cent; the Bloc is polling at 8.8 per cent and the Green Party has the support of 11.1 per cent of Canadians, the poll says.

But it's the Tory movement - small as it is - that's causing intrigue.

"Obviously, highly speculative this week but if things worsen for the government over the coming week, speculation about a snap election will become almost as interesting as the prurient innuendos swirling about Jaffer and Guergis," Mr. Graves says.

The pollster notes the controversy over the transfer of Afghan detainees and allegations of torture is beginning to build again. So the combination of the two stories is problematic for the minority Tory government.

The latest Guergis revelations, meanwhile, read like a plot from a sleazy detective novel - cocaine, private investigators and cellphone photos of the former women's minister and Mr. Jaffer partying.

As well, a parliamentary committee decided yesterday to launch a probe into Mr. Jaffer's business activities. He is the principal of an environmental consulting company, Green Power Generation Corp. Both he and Ms. Guergis will be asked to testify.

"This is going to get interesting," Mr. Graves says. "After a numbingly boring period of gridlock it appears that the political landscape is once again on the move.

"Call it spring fever, call it the inevitable thaw of a frozen political field, but the electorate is on the move - mildly. It seemed that nothing could halt the steady if unspectacular decline of Liberal fortunes."

In fact, Mr. Graves and his team are calling it more than that - they say the Tories have been "Guergisized!"

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The poll of 1,555 Canadians was conducted between April 7 and April 13, as the Geurgis story was building toward her resignation from cabinet and expulsion from the Tory caucus last Friday. It's considered accurate plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

A deeper look at the poll reveals more problems for the Conservatives. For example, the Tories once had a two-to-one advantage over the Liberals among older Canadians. That has dissipated, Mr. Graves says, as that group is "clearly not amused with the antics of Canada's own celebrity couple."

The Liberals are gaining again in Ontario. The survey shows them with 36.6 per cent support in the province compared to 31.1 per cent for the Conservatives. Last week, EKOS had the Tories at 39.5 per cent in Ontario compared to 31.8 per cent for the Liberals.

"Tory prospects look considerably bleaker today than they did last week and one wonders whether a party which couldn't rise above 33 points this year is in a position to withstand more damage if the Afghan issue starts to suggest that there has been misconduct, and more importantly, an attempt to cover that up," Mr. Graves says.

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