Liberals at 40 per cent

Harper sure blew it last spring by not pulling the plug when the revelations were coming fast and furious at the Gomery Commission. But then one George Bush is more than enough on this continent.

Liberals at 40 per cent in recent poll
Compared with 24 per cent for Tories

Donald Mckenzie
Canadian Press

Monday, September 19, 2005

Paul Martin, September 17 2005. (CP/Victoria Times Colonist-Darren Stone)

MONTREAL -- The federal Liberals had the support of 40 per cent of respondents in a new poll - virtually the same level of backing they received in rolling to their majority government in 2000.

The Leger Marketing survey, conducted Sept. 6-11, pegged Conservative support at 24 per cent, while the NDP stood at 15 per cent and the Bloc Quebecois at 13 per cent.

The numbers were reached after distribution of the 20 per cent of respondents who were undecided.

Some observers said the results are another sign that Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberals have bounced back from the sponsorship scandal, which had them plunging in the polls earlier this year as the Gomery commission heard allegations of widespread financial corruption within the party's Quebec wing.

"It shows that even though they (the Liberals) went through hard times last spring, it seems that they're slowly coming out of it," said Anne-Marie Marois, Leger Marketing's research director.

Marois said the poll revealed strong growth for the Liberals in Western Canada, including a jump of 16 percentage points in Alberta in two months and an increase of 14 percentage points in British Columbia.

In Ontario, the Liberals outstripped the Conservatives by a 46-27 margin, while the Bloc Quebecois continued its dominance in Quebec, leading the Grits by a 55-34 score.

The poll of 1,500 respondents is considered accurate within 2.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, meaning Liberal support could be as high as 42.6 per cent or as low as 37.4 per cent.

The margins of error for the regional breakdowns are bigger.

The Liberals formed a minority government in June 2004 with 36.7 per cent support, compared with the 29.6 per cent for the Conservatives.

In the November 2000 election, the Liberals romped to their third consecutive majority with 40.8 per cent, while the Canadian Alliance and the Conservatives totalled 37.7 per cent.

Martin has promised to call an election within 30 days of Justice John Gomery tabling his final report, which he now says will occur next Feb. 1.

While Martin could be sorely tempted to call a snap election this fall if Liberal support continued to grow, both Marois and political scientist Francois-Pierre Gingras believe that would backfire on the prime minister because of his repeated promises to wait for Gomery's final recommendations.

"I think there's a risk there and it would be much safer to live with another few months of the purgatory of a minority government to try to reap the benefits of some popular legislation this fall," said Gingras, who works at the University of Ottawa.

Marois agreed.

"He (Martin) is better off waiting and trying to increase satisfaction and then they can go because to go now into an election would mean he would not respect his promise.

"And as long as he waits at least until the Gomery report is out and as long as the Conservatives still have Stephen Harper leading the party, his chances can only improve."

Both observers said they believe Gomery's final report would have a negative effect on the Liberals only if he points the finger directly at Martin, who has said he was not aware of any financial skulduggery in the sponsorship program when he was finance minister in the '90s.

While the poll had the Liberals way out in the lead in popular support, 53 per cent of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with Martin's government, compared with 40 per cent who were satisfied.

The highest dissatisfaction levels were in Quebec (72 per cent) and Alberta (57 per cent).

But another positive for Martin is that dissatisfaction in seat-rich Ontario dropped nine percentage points to 45 per cent since the beginning of the summer.

Gingras said the Conservatives and the NDP have to find the right issues to regain the momentum they had earlier this year.

"There's only so much mileage you can make on the sponsorship scandal."

The poll results might put more pressure on Harper, whose leadership has recently been challenged by some Tories. A Leger survey in April had the Conservatives at 34 per cent.

(For more information, consult www.legermarketing.com)

© The Canadian Press 2005

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