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Liberals see 'structural shift' in their favour

1. Welcome to the 'new normal.' A new national opinion poll putting the Liberals neck and neck with the Conservatives for the third consecutive week has its author saying talk of a spring election will start bubbling as the opposition parties say to themselves, "maybe we can get rid of this guy now."

With this "bold prediction," EKOS pollster Frank Graves says his latest survey is showing something more than a temporary blip in support for the Liberals.

"This is no longer the kind of thing, 'Oh, we've got a temporary advantage.' You've got what appears to have been a structural shift," he says. As a result, opposition parties will start talking "very seriously, very shortly" about the possibilities of a spring election.

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The Tories will deliver their budget a month from today. It will be a matter of confidence.

The EKOS poll puts Michael Ignatieff's Liberals nearly a point ahead of Stephen Harper's Conservatives - 31.9 per cent compared to 31 per cent for the Tories. Although this is clearly within the margin of error, Liberal support is not waning.

Two months ago, the Tories enjoyed a 10-point lead but that evaporated as a result of the Afghan detainee controversy and the Prime Minister's decision to prorogue, Mr. Graves says.

The latest numbers show Canada entering a "new normal - two key parties going toe to toe in a virtual deadlock."

EKOS also has the NDP with 15.4 per cent of the vote; the Bloc with 8.4 per cent and the Green Party with 10.9 per cent.

Mr. Ignatieff and his team have assiduously avoided any talk about an election since they were severely whacked by Canadians last fall over their vow to bring down Mr. Harper's minority government.

But Mr. Graves says the arithmetic around an election and the public appetite for one appears to be changing.

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"It seemed that the first take on the new deadlock was that this would spike everyone's interest in a spring election," Mr. Graves says. "But as the trend clearly favours the opposition and Liberals there may be a growing sense that given the right opportunity, why not?"

This latest survey also shows some other interesting trends - that the Tories, for example, no longer have the lock on all the key demographics. Conservatives are now only leading among seniors and in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The Liberals, meanwhile, have grown in support and are leading in key battleground areas such as Ontario and Quebec; among women (31.5 per cent for the Grits compared to 28.3 for the Tories); and among university educated voters.

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Mr. Graves says he was surprised by the results of this poll, which surveyed 3,406 Canadians between Jan. 27 and Feb. 2. "I keep expecting 'okay, when are the Conservatives going to bounce back?'"

But despite a good performance in handling the Haitian earthquake and having made few mistakes domestically, the Conservatives are not moving.

That said, Mr. Graves is now wondering if the latest move by the Conservatives to cancel two of the break weeks for MPs - one in March and the other in April - will make Canadians feel less agitated about the decision to prorogue. "It's not a bad idea," he says. "If it is seen as climbing down a bit, then I think that will probably be seen as a good thing."

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Then again, "if it is seen as just sort of more politicking then it probably won't be seen as a good thing at all."

2. Danny Williams enjoys Rock solid support. While there has been criticism from other corners, the people of Newfoundlanders and Labrador are solidly behind their premier and his decision to go to the United States for heart surgery. And just how solid that support is was emphasized by Lieutenant-Governor John Crosbie yesterday.

His comments supporting the Premier were noted on VOCM radio: "Lieutenant-Governor John Crosbie offered his opinion on the Premier's trip to the United States for heart surgery, during a speech in Corner Brook yesterday. Crosbie offered his well wishes. He says he doesn't care where Williams gets the operation, as long as it's a place that can do the job properly and effectively, and that is up to the Premier."

This is significant because Mr. Crosbie, also a popular figure in the province, does not always see eye to eye with the Premier. As well, Mr. Crosbie was the provincial health minister when their system was reformed, creating the Newfoundland Medicare Commission.

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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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