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After a summer and early fall of discontent, Stephen Harper is liked again by Canadians. His Conservatives are now almost a full seven points ahead of Michael Ignatieff's Liberals, according to a new EKOS poll.

This latest national opinion survey, released Thursday morning, shows the Conservatives with the support of 34.4 per cent of Canadians compared to 27.8 per cent for the Liberals. Two weeks ago EKOS data showed the Tories and Liberals at 33.1 per cent and 29.9 per cent respectively.

The NDP have also regained some strength - they are at 15.8 per cent, up from 13.5 per cent two weeks ago. Elizabeth May's Green Party has the support of 10.4 per cent of Canadians compared to 9.3 per cent for the Bloc Quebecois.

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EKOS pollster Frank Graves believes the Tories have benefited from the waning of the furor over the government's decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census. That issue, fallout from the Helena Guergis affair and the long-gun registry vote had been dogging the Conservatives since summer.

While this latest poll is good for the Tories, it is not encouraging for the Liberals. It now appears the highly-educated classes - who had left the Tories for the Grits over the census - are now returning to the Conservative fold. But Mr. Graves is not convinced that support is solid.

"It will be very interesting to see if the UN Security Council seat renews concerns amongst the more educated in the coming month," the pollster said, referring to the Harper government's bungling of the Security Council vote at the United Nations Tuesday.

Mr. Graves's survey finds that the Conservatives picked up the most strength in Alberta - not a province where they have ever lacked support - with 61.8 per cent. He says the Tory strength right now is "concentrated in white, male seniors from Alberta and the rest of the Prairies."

Ontario is a different story, however. The Tories are in a deadlock with the Liberals in the vote-rich province, pulling in 37.8 per cent compared to 37.3 per cent for the Grits.

And they are suffering in Quebec with only 13.7 per cent support. This, just a month after Quebeckers seemed to be flirting with them over the Prime Minister's musings about supporting an NHL-calibre hockey arena in Quebec City. At that time they had 21.1 per cent support; two weeks ago that dropped to 14.7 per cent.

The EKOS poll of 1,832 Canadians was conducted between Oct. 6 and Oct. 12. It has a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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Mr. Graves also picked up some interesting regional and voting splits. His poll shows a gender gap and suggests that women and younger voters are "underwhelmed with either of the two real contenders." He noted, too, that the Liberals are leading among the "non-Canadian-born" vote - 37.2 per cent compared to 34.6 per cent for the Conservatives.

Seat projection

There is no majority government in the cards for either the Conservatives or the Liberals.

In fact, Gilles Duceppe and his separatist Bloc Quebecois would be the "kingpin" in a new Parliament if a federal election were held today, according to the EKOS poll. Seat projections based on the numbers give the Bloc 54 of the 75 seats in Quebec and the controlling votes in the House of Commons.

"The resulting parliament would be quite unstable with both the LPC-NDP and the CPC falling well short of majority rule," Mr. Graves said. "Like it or not Gilles Duceppe's BQ would be the kingpins in this parliament and neither party/alliance would be able to maintain rule without their support."

The EKOS seat projections give the Conservatives 126 seats compared to the 143 they have now; the Liberals would win 92 seats, up from the 76 they now have; the Bloc would have 54 seats compared to 48 now and the NDP would be down one seat to 35. There would also be one Independent in the 308-seat House of Commons.

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