Stephen Harper's public musings about a Conservative hat trick – Tories ruling Ottawa, Queen's Park and Toronto's city hall – is more chilling than warming for Ontario Progressive Conservatives, new polling data suggests.
Ditto for the high-profile endorsement by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty of PC chief Tim Hudak last week.
"Ontario voters have always shown a tendency to hedge their bets between the two senior levels of government," EKOS Research pollster Frank Graves told The Globe.
He noted that Bill Davis was Progressive Conservative premier during Pierre Trudeau's tenure, then there was Tory Mike Harris during the Jean Chrétien's time in government and now there's Dalton McGuinty and Mr. Harper.
The latest EKOS poll numbers suggest a strong Conservative majority in Ottawa "predisposes" Ontarians not to vote for Mr. Hudak. In fact, about three to one "lean to be less rather than more likely to vote Conservative," Mr. Graves said.
Released Monday, the EKOS survey gives the Liberals a seven point lead over the Tories – with 37.8 per cent support for Mr. McGuinty compared to 30. 6 per cent for Mr. Hudak. Andrea Horwath and her New Democrats are at 22.7 per cent.
That tally is in contrast to the Nanos Research survey conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV. It shows the Tories and Liberals locked in a dead heat, with 35.6 per cent support for Mr. McGuinty compared to 36.4 per cent for Mr. Hudak.
The Nanos numbers raise the prospect of a minority government, with the NDP holding the balance of power. Mr. Graves, however, disagrees.
"Ironically, many of the very things which helped Stephen Harper are lining up in Dalton McGuinty's favour," he said – "a loyal and older base who will show up and no real sense that the adventure of change in government is worth the risk right now."
Over the past few days the Ontario Liberal Leader has been campaigning hard on this point, arguing that his eight years of experience as premier are not a liability. Rather, he says they make him the only leader who can credibly go toe-to-toe with Mr. Harper on a national stage, such as negotiating the health accord.
Also helping Mr. McGuinty are comments Mr. Harper made this summer about a hat trick. The Prime Minister, attending a barbecue at the home of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, talked about the delicious prospect of a Tory government in Ontario to add to conservative power municipally and nationally.
Mr. Graves argues these comments have clearly hampered Mr. Hudak and brightened Mr. McGuinty's prospects, especially in Toronto. "The ruins of the federal Liberal fortress are not applying to this election where Toronto voters say that the Conservative majority in Ottawa makes them four times more likely to vote non-Conservative than Conservative," the analysis accompanying the EKOS poll says.