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Stephen Harper's lock on lead raises coalition stakes Add to ...

Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton may want to get their minds around the controversial issue of a coalition or merger, given new national opinion poll numbers showing Stephen Harper's Conservatives firmly locked in minority government territory.

The EKOS survey, released Thursday, has the Tories with an eight-point lead (33.9 per cent) over the Liberals (25.7 per cent), who are in the territory below that of Stéphane Dion during his disastrous 2008 election run.

The New Democrats, meanwhile, are at 16.4 per cent compared to the Bloc Quebecois at 9.4 per cent and 11.9 per cent for the Green Party.

How to unlock the Tory lead? Do the math, EKOS president Frank Graves says, and that "may shed some light on the issue of possible alliances and coalitions in the future."

Mr. Graves says an NDP/Liberal model is the most discussed alliance. (Indeed, earlier this week former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien, who was on Parliament Hill for the unveiling of his official portrait, told CTV's Tom Clark the issue of a merger with the NDP was put to him early in his tenure but it never went anywhere.)

Considering today's poll, Mr. Graves notes the two parties "enjoy 42 per cent of voter support which certainly elevates them from also-rans to clear contenders for power, perhaps even a majority."

Small problem, however: Mr. Graves says his past research has shown the union is not "perfectly efficient" as some Liberal supporters would move over to the Conservatives.

"Recall that Liberal supporters are less disenchanted with the government than other opposition supporters and many may well prefer the devil they know to strange new NDP-LPC bedfellows," he explains.

The pollster also throws out the possibility of a Green Party and NDP merger that would provide a "highly respectable 28 points and could be immediately competitive with both the Libeals and Conservatives at their current levels."

And, too, there is the potential of a union of Liberals and Green supporters. In fact, in the last election Mr. Dion did not run a Liberal candidate against Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in the Nova Scotia riding she was trying to win. It proved a highly controversial move on his part; she did not win a seat in the House.

Mr. Graves does not stop there: "Lest one think the master of real coalition creation would sit by idly and see power wrestled away by any new political Frankenstein, how about a deal between the province-friendly CPC and the ultimate devolutionists, the BQ?"

Mr. Graves draws on the recent experience in Britain in which the Conservatives have created a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, hardly a natural alliance but one borne of pragmatism. "The recent British elections showed that erstwhile sketchy alliances suddenly can become palatable in the fact of losing or keeping power," he says.

Indeed, the British result has focused attention on possible mergers. And with the Tories not moving in the polls for several months now, a merger on the left may be the only way to break the gridlock.

The EKOS poll of 2,178 Canadians was conducted between May 19 and May 25; it has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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