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Prime Minister Stephen Harper is greeted by Bill Smith and his horse Nip at Heritage Park before his annual Prime Minister's BBQ during the Calgary Stampede on Saturday. (TODD KOROL)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is greeted by Bill Smith and his horse Nip at Heritage Park before his annual Prime Minister's BBQ during the Calgary Stampede on Saturday. (TODD KOROL)

Tories climbing rapidly to top of the polls Add to ...

The Conservative Party is back on top for the first time in four months and has momentum over the Liberals at the start of the summer politicking season, a new poll has found.

After a weekend appearance at the Calgary Stampede, Conservative Leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands to benefit from further visibility this week as he goes to Italy for a G8 meeting and to the Vatican to meet the Pope.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, after enduring negative media coverage at the end of the last parliamentary session, will need to work on increasing his profile in provinces such as Ontario this summer. However, he will go on vacation shortly after giving the Isaiah Berlin lecture Wednesday in London, England, at the Liberal International, the world organization of liberal and progressive democratic political parties.

According to a national poll conducted by The Strategic Counsel for The Globe and Mail and CTV, the Conservative Party has the support of 34 per cent of respondents, a one-point edge over the Liberals (33 per cent).

The NDP is in third position at 15 per cent.

While the race for the top position is in a statistical tie, the Conservatives have the most momentum, going up four points over the previous month and reclaiming the lead for the first time since the Liberals overtook them last April. The Liberal Party and the NDP, on the other hand, each dropped a point compared to last month's poll.

In Ontario, where the top three national parties will wage some of their toughest battles in the next election, the Conservatives are in the lead at 43 per cent, ahead of the Liberals at 39 per cent and the NDP at 11 per cent.

Pollster Peter Donolo of The Strategic Counsel said the main finding of the poll is the Liberal numbers, and the sense that Mr. Ignatieff's honeymoon - seven months after becoming Liberal Leader - is over.

"They've plateaued and seem stalled in the low- to mid-30s," Mr. Donolo said.

The challenge for the Liberals is that, like all opposition parties, they will have to struggle to obtain visibility this summer with the House of Commons in recess.

"An opposition leader suffers when Ottawa shuts down," Mr. Donolo said. "It's very hard to change the overall zeitgeist if you're off the map nationally for a couple of months."

Mr. Harper can be expected to be all over newscasts this week when he hobnobs with foreign leaders at the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, and then meets with Pope Benedict XVI. The Conservative team will also have an opportunity to focus on economic issues without facing daily attacks from the opposition.

In Quebec, the Bloc Québécois is in the lead at 44 per cent, well ahead of the Liberals at 31 per cent and the Conservatives at 15 per cent.

The Liberals are banking on making gains in the province in their bid to reclaim office, and are hoping to attract star candidates such as Jacques Ménard, the chairman of BMO Nesbitt Burns, sources said.

After taking a holiday this month, Mr. Ignatieff will travel the country in early August. Like Mr. Harper, Mr. Ignatieff also spent the weekend at the Calgary Stampede, and recently went to Winnipeg.

The Strategic Counsel poll is based on interviews with 1,000 respondents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent in the national sample. The margin of error is higher for regional numbers.

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