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Liberals narrow gap to 6 points in campaign's 'first possible shift'

1. What a difference a day makes. The Conservative lead over the Liberals literally shrunk overnight from 10 points to just over six, according to a Nanos Research poll of voting intentions for the Globe and Mail and CTV.

According to a rolling three-day survey than includes calls up until 9 p.m. Wednesday, support for Stephen Harper's Tories is up slightly from the survey ending the day before, going from 38.4 per cent to 39.1 per cent of committed voters.

The big change however is support shifting from the NDP to the Liberals. Support for Michael Ignatieff's team jumped from 28.7 per cent to 32.7 per cent, while NDP support dropped to 15.9 per cent from 19.6 per cent.

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"The nightly tracking has identified the first possible shift of the campaign," pollster Nik Nanos said.

Support for the Bloc Quebecois is essentially unchanged at 8.7 per cent. And all of the attention over the decision not to allow Elizabeth May into the debate doesn't seem to be helping her party - Green support is at 3.7 per cent, down slightly from 4.1 per cent the day before.

So far, 21.7 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they were undecided.

Wednesday was a better day on the campaign for Mr. Ignatieff than it was for NDP Leader Jack Layton, given that an NDP candidate defected to the Liberals.

Also, the Liberal Leader's proposal to help students with the cost of tuition is being widely discussed online (more on that below).

The survey of 1,200 people covers March 28-30, including 400 surveys each day. Every day during the campaign, Nanos will survey 400 people and report on the average of the most recent three days. The margin of error for the national numbers is plus or minus 3.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Mr. Nanos said with nightly polling, it is important to watch for trends over time to assess the significance of changes in the numbers.

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"Most of the Liberal gains were in the Prairies, co-incidental with the tour of Michael Ignatieff and his announcement of his election platform," Mr. Nanos said, noting that Canadians are increasingly saying that issues are an important factor in deciding who to support.

"This suggests that voters are becoming increasingly focused on the platforms and ideas proposed by the federal parties," he said.

2. Twitter picks policy winners and losers. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's call for a "Canadian Learning Passport" is getting a lot of buzz online.

For anyone looking for specifics as to why the Liberals just got a bump in the Nanos survey, the world of Twitter may provide a clue.

Thanks to Vancouver-based web developer Trevor May, there's now a way to track the reaction to various campaign promises on the social-media service.

Of eight campaign promises announced so far by the Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats, the tuition support policy is the most talked about pledge on Twitter. The Conservative proposal for income splitting is the second most discussed.

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Mr. May's regularly updated list is available on his website,, created two years ago to track federal politicians on the social networking site.

Originally Mr. May said he created the site as a helpful way for people to track political tweets from time to time without having to swamp their own personal twitter feeds with politicians.

His site has attracted the attention of Library and Archives Canada. Mr. May said the national archivists have contacting him, wanting his help to archive all of the political tweets during the campaign.

Mr. May, as well as Ottawa digital public affairs strategist Mark Blevis, are also among those at the forefront of efforts to use Twitter as a form of polling to assess public reaction to the federal election campaign.

Through his programming, Mr. May is trying to sort tweets in terms of whether they are positive or negative toward a specific policy. That part still needs more refining, he said.

Nonetheless, grouping Twitter reaction to find opinion trends is developing into a new use for the social media site, he said.

"That's definitely one of its strengths, and something that's maybe not been exploited to its full potential yet," he said. "It really helps to have an election to focus that attention. The volume [of political discussion]just increased exponentially as soon as the election came. There's a lot more useful data to work with."

3. When does Parliament come back? All the talk about hypothetical scenarios for the opening days of Canada's 41st Parliament raised the question as to when this showdown will play out, should the election produce another minority government.

According to the proclamation Parliament issued last week, it will meet again on May 30. The government could change that date. However, there's a limit to how far Parliament's return can be delayed.

When Parliament is dissolved, the government can still spend money using so-called Special Warrants. But once the writs - written orders setting elections in each riding - are returned to the Chief Electoral Officer, Special Warrants can only be used for another 60 days.

Given that it takes about two weeks for writs to be returned after election day, that means Parliament must return and vote new spending by about mid-July.

That would entail approving routine supply bills and could involve a new budget as well. Before MPs can vote for spending however, they must first elect a new Speaker and approve a Speech from the Throne. The Throne Speech and government spending are all matters of confidence, meaning the whole matter of who is Prime Minister should be sorted out before Parliament's summer recess -if it isn't clear on Election Day.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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