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Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland scores higher than Justin Trudeau as the preferred choice for leader of the Liberal Party, with a new poll showing Canadians are deeply divided over the Prime Minister’s performance.

Ms. Freeland, who does double duty as Finance Minister and is playing a key role in Canada’s response to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, is the front-runner to become Mr. Trudeau’s potential successor.

A Nanos Research poll of 1,049 Canadians conducted Jan. 21-23 for The Globe and Mail found 25 per cent of respondents said Ms. Freeland is best suited to lead the Liberal Party into the next election, compared with 18.4 per cent who said Mr. Trudeau would be their choice.

In voter-rich Ontario, Ms. Freeland is 13 percentage points ahead of Mr. Trudeau – and three points ahead in his home province of Quebec.

“It suggests, at this particular point in time, that she has a stronger brand than Justin Trudeau,” pollster Nik Nanos said. “The ironic twist in this is that Justin Trudeau is the one who made Chrystia Freeland who she is today and provided her with the platform for the profile she has.”

Ms. Freeland, who appears to be Mr. Trudeau’s heir apparent, leads other leadership rivals in cabinet by a large margin, as well as outsider Mark Carney, a former governor of the Bank of Canada and Bank of England.

Mr. Carney, also touted as a potential Liberal leader should Mr. Trudeau step down before the next election, has 12.1-per-cent support, followed by Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne at 2.5 per cent and Defence Minister Anita Anand at 2.3 per cent.

A significant 31.8 per cent of respondents said they were unsure who should lead the Liberal Party.

“Almost 32 per cent are unsure who they would like to lead, so this also means it is wide open in terms of any of the other potential contenders,” Mr. Nanos said. “This a measurement of the brand strength of different potential contenders. The key indicator today is that the Freeland brand is stronger than the Trudeau brand.”

The hybrid telephone and online survey has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

More worrisome for Mr. Trudeau, who has said he wants to seek a fourth mandate, is that the poll finds Canadians are evenly divided over his governance of the country. Thirty-five per cent of Canadians believe he has done an excellent job, and 35 per cent think he has done a poor job.

Ms. Freeland appears to have a head start in a potential leadership race. The Prime Minister has given her key decision-making roles and includes her in almost every government announcement he makes.

She is also going to be the subject of a biography that the author calls a portrait of the most powerful woman in Canadian politics and the possible heir apparent to Mr. Trudeau.

Biographer Catherine Tsalikis will feed growing perceptions within the Liberal Party that Canada’s first female finance minister is preparing for Mr. Trudeau’s departure from political office.

Ms. Tsalikis, who writes about foreign affairs and gender equality, said the biography is to be published in the fall of 2023 but could be released earlier if there is a leadership race and Ms. Freeland throws her hat into the ring.

The Globe has reported that Liberal MPs say Ms. Freeland has become more friendly and outgoing with backbenchers since the fall election. She now regularly returns calls from MPs.

The Globe has also reported that Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, who co-chaired the Liberals’ election campaign, has set up a network of loyalists in Quebec for a potential leadership run.

However, Mr. Nanos said Ms. Joly registered less than 2-per-cent support in the poll.

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