Though Parliament doesn't return for two more weeks, a new poll suggests politicians should be hustling back to their desks sooner rather than later.
The survey by Nanos Research, provided to The Globe and Mail and CTV, manages to offer bad news for all three national parties.
The poll, which was conducted between Aug. 28 and Sept. 3, has the Conservatives and Liberals tied at 33-per-cent support. This is a slight two-percentage-point drop for the Conservatives from a previous Nanos poll in late May and early June, and represents a modest gain of three percentage points for the Liberals.
The Nanos poll confirms other recent polls that have the two major political parties in a dead heat, at least temporarily eliminating the lead that the Conservatives have enjoyed over the Liberals for most of the past five years.
Controversies from prorogation to the Helena Guergis affair to the census, and much else in between, have cost Prime Minister Stephen Harper popular support.
"I think what we're seeing is an accumulation effect," said pollster Nik Nanos in an interview, "a series of issues that in themselves are not significant, but that as they accumulate start to move the numbers."
In the absence of a governing agenda that trumps local tempests, the electorate concludes that these storms are the actual agenda, Mr. Nanos believes, and registers its displeasure.
But if the Conservatives are suffering from self-inflicted wounds, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has problems of his own. On questions of leadership - which leader do you trust more, which is more competent, which has the better vision for Canada - Mr. Harper trumps Mr. Ignatieff 2 to 1. The Prime Minister has a leadership index score (a compendium of results from the three questions) of 83, up three points from a similar survey conducted in late April and early May. Mr. Ignatieff's score is 39, two points down from the previous survey and five points behind NDP Leader Jack Layton.
But the poll isn't good news for Mr. Layton, either. The NDP dropped sharply, from 21 to 16 per cent, as Mr. Layton tried to hold together a caucus split in two over whether to support scrapping the long gun firearms registry.
When Canadian voters look to Ottawa, "they see government by distraction, and what they perceive as ineffective opposition parties," Mr. Nanos said.
In preparation for the fall session, the Liberals shuffled their shadow cabinet Tuesday, putting some of their most pugnacious MPs in the most important roles.
David McGuinty, brother to the Ontario Premier and one of the most relentless hecklers in the House of Commons, replaces the affable Ralph Goodale as House Leader. Mr. McGuinty will confront recently appointed Conservative House Leader John Baird, a political pit bull on the floor of the Commons.
"We need to send a signal to these guys," a senior Liberal official told The Globe. "They want to play nice, we'll play nice. They want to play tough, they should watch who they wrangle with. The Liberals aren't going to lie down."
The sharp-tongued Scott Brison takes over as finance critic from the more genteel John McCallum, while rising star Dominic LeBlanc replaces Ujjal Dosanjh on the national defence file.
"I think we put very political people in both defence and finance," the Ignatieff official said.
It will be Mr. LeBlanc's job to hold Defence Minister Peter MacKay's feet to the fire over the Harper government's $16-billion purchase of 65 next-generation fighter jets, while Mr. Brison will be point man in the lead up to the March budget.
That budget could trigger an election. But with poll numbers like these, no political party will be anxious to force a vote any time soon.
The Nanos Research poll on party support surveyed 1,014 respondents and is considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.Report Typo/Error
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