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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during an awards ceremony honouring Canada's best teachers in Ottawa on Oct. 5, 2009. (CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during an awards ceremony honouring Canada's best teachers in Ottawa on Oct. 5, 2009. (CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters)

Tories flirt with majority support Add to ...

Support for the Harper Conservatives is flirting with majority government levels after weeks of parliamentary wrangling that saw the Liberals try and fail to topple the Tory minority amid a recession.

A Strategic Counsel poll conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV says Conservative support has risen to 41 per cent nationally - a six-point jump from a month ago.

The Liberals, however have seen their country-wide support drop two points to 28 per cent. In the rest of Canada outside Quebec, Michael Ignatieff's Liberals have seen voter backing fall sharply, shedding seven percentage points to 26 per cent.

The biggest problem for Mr. Ignatieff, however, is Ontario. The Tories have pulled far ahead in the vote-rich battleground of Canada's most-populous province, running 16 points ahead of the Liberals, 46 per cent versus 30 per cent in Ontario.

At the national level, the NDP remains steady at 14 per cent. In Quebec, the Bloc Québécois has dropped 9 points at the expense of the Liberals, who have gained 10 points in the French-speaking province to sit at 33 per cent.

This new poll in part reflects a steady decline in support for Mr. Ignatieff outside Quebec since May. The Liberal Party has sunk 12 points over the past four months in Ontario, now standing at 30 per cent. It's also dropped seven points to 18 per cent in western Canada since May.

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Strategic Counsel pollster Peter Donolo said it looks like the Liberals are being punished for trying to defeat the minority Conservative government, a move that would have triggered an election amid a recession.

"There no question there's been a direct relationship between the kind of month Mr. Ignatieff has had - particularly the kind of week he had - and the results here in this poll," Mr. Donolo said.

The Liberals failed last week to bring down the Tories, who were kept in office by the NDP. Prime Minister Stephen Harper had repeatedly rejected the idea of an election, saying it would only bring instability at the worst possible time.

"Mr. Harper looks like he is sticking to his knitting - he is focused on the economy and not playing politics," Mr. Donolo said.

The gap in national numbers between the Tories and Liberals is now 13 percentage points - a spread that suggests the Conservatives have a chance at a majority government if an election were held now.

However Mr. Donolo cautioned the Tories could lose support if they are seen attempting to engineer their defeat.

"The bind that Harper is in is interesting. If he looks like he's triggering an election, or making the opposition an offer they have to refuse - and thereby triggering an election - a lot of the halo he currently has will evaporate," Mr. Donolo said.

"He might not be able to have his cake and eat it too. His cake being the 41 per cent. But the minute he looks like he is too greedy over it, that could slip away from him."

The Strategic Counsel surveyed 1,000 Canadians between Oct. 2 and Oct. 4. The national survey is considered accurate to within 3.1 points, 19 times out of 20. The regional samples have a higher margin of error.

Conservative support has soared even higher In western Canada, the party's traditional base. The Tories have jumped 15 percentage points in the last months to 58 per cent from 43 per cent in western Canada, which in this poll means every province from Manitoba to British Columbia. The NDP has dropped in western Canada to 15 per cent from 22 per cent.

The big question for the trend of Tory support is whether the Conservatives can keep it up. The party has frequently bumped up against 40 per cent in the polls only to slide back.

"The issue is can he sustain these numbers," Mr. Donolo said. "Or is this just a predictable reaction on the part of the public to anxiety over an election and irritation that's being shown against the opposition parties, and particularly the Liberals, over the threat of an election?"

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