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Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes an announcement at Vanocouver's main port on Oct. 13, 2009. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes an announcement at Vanocouver's main port on Oct. 13, 2009. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Tories 'really taking off' in polls Add to ...

Stephen Harper, the piano man and economic manager, is making Canadians so comfortable they want to see him win a majority government, according to a new national public opinion poll.

The EKOS Research survey released to the CBC shows that the Conservatives' substantial lead over Michael Ignatieff's Liberals is solidifying - a lead that now has the Tories knocking on the door of a majority government.

According to EKOS, the Tories now enjoy 40.7 per cent support compared to 25.5 per cent for the Liberals, 14.3 per cent for the NDP, 10.5 per cent for the Green Party and 9.1 per cent for the Bloc.

Two polls last week showed the same upward movement for the Conservatives, edging them into majority territory.

But EKOS has gone farther by plugging their numbers into a seat projection model that gives the Harper Conservatives 167 seats, a clear majority. They now have 143 seats.

The projections - all hypothetical - do not bode well for Mr. Ignatieff and his Liberals. It would give them 68 seats, meaning he would do worse than his predecessor, Stéphane Dion, who won 77 seats in the 2008 election.

The EKOS model gives the Bloc 50 seats, up from 47; the NDP 23 seats, which is a decrease of 13; and the Green Party would be shut out once again.

The poll of 2,729 Canadians was conducted between Oct. 7 and Oct. 13. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

"They're really taking off," EKOS president Frank Graves said of the Tories. Describing it as "fascinating," he noted as well that the pattern of Canadians retreating from the Tories when they see them moving into majority territory is not being repeated in his poll.

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"This is new. It's got to be very encouraging to them and deeply disturbing to the Liberals," Mr. Graves told The Globe and Mail.

The pollster admitted, however, that he is puzzled as to exactly why the Harper government is able to sustain its lead.

"To be blunt, I can't understand all of this," he said, wondering whether the Prime Minister's piano performance this month has made the difference. "Is it the Michael Buble-like [nature]of Canadian politics that has put him into overdrive?"

He added: "Is it the negative framing of Mr. Ignatieff? I am really scratching my head trying to understand all of this. It is really dramatic because we had a political landscape that frozen in amber for a couple of months with these guys absolutely deadlocked."

Still, Mr. Graves's poll shows that Canadians right now prefer a "low-tax, low-service government over a higher-taxing government with a higher level of services."

"For the moment, everything seems to be rolling the Conservatives' way," he said.

The EKOS president also suspects that the doling out of infrastructure cheques in ridings may have helped Mr. Harper. But there are others who believe it may cause the Tories more trouble as MPs are under scrutiny for using the party logo and their signatures on government cheques.

Some Tories are worried: "It certainly is uncomfortable. And as the PM set the bar high on accountability this hyper-partisan stuff can bite back if it is not reigned in," a veteran Conservative strategist said.

And Strategic Counsel's pollster, Peter Donolo, said the cheque stories have thrown the government off of its "game plan" and represent the first bump in the road for the Tories since Labour Day.

"What the Liberals need to do is to flip the media attention," Mr. Donolo said, noting that for the past few weeks the narrative has been all about the Liberals and their sliding fortunes. "They have to know how to exploit that."

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