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Hockey talk puts Tories back on stable ground in Quebec

Stephen Harper's recent musings about funding an NHL rink in Quebec City are reviving Conservative Party fortunes in that province, according to the new EKOS poll.

Despite charges by the opposition the Conservatives had written off Quebec and concerns by his western MPs about alienating voters by spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on a rink in the provincial capital, the Prime Minister appears to be employing some method to his madness.

The EKOS poll, released Thursday morning, has the Tories with a small lead over Michael Ignatieff's Liberals - 32.4 per cent compared to 28.9 per cent.

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The NDP are at 16.6 per cent (a slight increase from two weeks ago that may be attributed in part to Jack Layton's efforts to save the long-gun registry), the Bloc Quebecois is polling at 8.9 per cent and the Green Party is at 10.7 per cent.

But it's the story in Quebec that provides the most interest. It has changed dramatically for the Conservatives over the past two weeks.

"The CPC has certainly picked up its performance in Quebec (largely at the expense of the Bloc) and one has to wonder if the talk of an NHL franchise helped here," EKOS president Frank Graves says.

Two weeks ago Mr. Graves described Quebec as "scorched earth" for the Tories. But the regional breakdown in his latest poll shows the Tories building support in la belle province.

In the week of Sept. 1 to Sept. 7, they were polling at 15.8 per cent in Quebec. This past week, however, as the Prime Minister visited the province and spoke favourably about trying to bring back NHL hockey to the capital, the Conservative numbers increased to 21.1 per cent.

The last week of the two-week poll, Sept. 8 to Sept. 14, saw 1,770 Canadians were surveyed; it has a margin of error of 2.33 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The sample size of the first week was slightly smaller, with 1,351 Canadians surveyed.

The national story is different from that of Quebec. It points to a very stable pattern - one that has not differed greatly over the past few weeks.

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Two weeks ago, the Tories were polling at 29.4 per cent with the Liberals at 29.1 per cent. The Tories have not had a good summer with their decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census helping to drag them down.

Mr. Graves says this pattern of the two main parties being either in a deadlock or statistically tied does not lend itself to any single party forming majority government.

"Perhaps the most notable feature is how elusive a single party majority (or even stable minority) has become," the pollster says. "Stephen Harper came to power with a minority government that the voters thought was the right antidote to the regime fatigue they felt with what had become near chronic majority governments."

But while enthusiasm has waned for minority governments, the polling pattern shows it is nearly impossible for a party to break through minority status. As a result, Mr. Graves wonders if coalition governments, such as that in Britain and the one that almost formed in Australia, will come to Canada.

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The separatist Bloc Quebecois would be the crucial power broker in the House of Commons if an election were held tomorrow, according to the EKOS poll.

Mr. Graves's seat projections give Gilles Duceppe and his Bloc separatists 49 seats. Mr. Ignatieff's Liberals would earn 96 with the NDP winning 36.

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While the NDP and Liberals would have more combined seats than the Tories - who would be reduced to 124 seats - they would not have enough for a majority, handing over the role of power broker to the Bloc.

The Conservatives have been effective at scaring Canadians with the spectre of a coalition government between the Liberals, NDP with the Bloc pulling some strings. These seat projections will provide even more fuel for them.

(Currently, the Conservatives hold 144 seats compared to 77 for the Liberals in the 308-seat House of Commons.)

The pollster's thesis that Mr. Harper's positive talk about federal help for the rink in Quebec is borne out in the seat projections. Two weeks ago, Mr. Graves had the Tories reduced to just one seat in Quebec; in this poll, however, the Tories would have 10 seats, down one from the 11 they currently hold in the province.

Mr. Graves notes, too, the struggle Canadians are having with minority government.

"The final irony is that at the very time when Canadians are showing real fatigue for minority parliaments their overall party preferences are placing the majority governments of yore, that they now seem to yearn for once again, into the realm of the highly implausible."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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