Liberals falter in the polls

After recent polls showing the Liberals verging on numbers that could generate majority status, they've received a cold shower in two more recent polls that show them faltering, back in minority territory. It seems that Canadians are refocusing on politics after the long summer. They're mad about rising gas prices and the costs of heating their homes this winter. The Dingwall escapade has not done the Liberals any good.Indeed, John McCallum's feeble attempts to rationalize a big severance payout to Dingwall have revived memories of the testimony before the Gomery Commission last spring. If Judge Gomery delivers a pithy first report, it may yet puncture the Liberal balloon which seemed to be floating high this summer.

Here are the poll results as reported by Canadian Press:

Despite failing to gain any ground in crucial Ontario ridings, Stephen Harper's Conservatives saw their national popular support inch to within six percentage points of the Liberals in late September, according to the Pollara Research survey, made available to The Canadian Press.

"The issues of spending, the various machinations of the Liberals over the past couple of weeks have not been positive (for Prime Minister Paul Martin)," said Pollara president Michael Marzolini.

The polling company's surveys during the summer had indicated the Liberals led the Tories by a 10- to 12-percentage-point gap.

However, Martin's government has been hammered recently by controversy over former Royal Canadian Mint president David Dingwall, who quit amid allegations of overspending and improper lobbying.

Voter anger over skyrocketing prices for gasoline and home heating fuel may also have been a factor in the new poll results, Marzolini suggested.

"We've got a lot more attention being paid to politics after Labour Day than we did during the summer," he said.

"And (Harper) is being given more fuel by Liberal problems."

A six percentage point gap indicates that, if voters went to the polls today, Canadians would elect another minority government.

"So it appears that the last few weeks have placed the country back into a minority government expectation," said Marzolini.

The Pollara survey, conducted between Sept. 26 and Oct. 2, asked 2,363 participants: "If a federal election were held today, which party would you most likely vote for?"

Among decided voters, 36 per cent said they would vote Liberal while 30 per cent liked the Conservatives. Another 19 per cent said they would support the NDP, while 11 per cent favoured the Bloc Quebecois. Sixteen per cent were undecided.

Martin dismissed suggestions that his party was slipping, insisting Friday that the Liberals have consistently maintained the lead in a number of surveys.

"The polls are the polls," Martin said in Montreal.

"In fact, what they demonstrate is that we continue to enjoy the confidence of Canadians."

"And I would expect that if we govern well, we will continue to have their confidence right across the country."

In Ontario, the Liberals remained well ahead of the pack, at 42 per cent decided support. The Conservatives were at 32 per cent.

"The numbers in Ontario have not changed (from previous polls)," said Marzolini.

"There's still a 10-point gap between Martin and Harper in both Toronto and also outside of Toronto in the rural areas."

However, the Liberals continued to trail badly in Quebec, where Gilles Duceppe's Bloc Quebecois maintained a commanding lead nearing 50 per cent, with the Grits well below 30 per cent.

"The real question here is British Columbia," said Marzolini, predicting that, if a federal election were held today, B.C. could for the first time determine who becomes prime minister.

"It really is going to be a huge battleground."

The survey suggested a near three-way split in decided support in B.C., with 35 per cent for the Liberals, 33 for the Conservatives and 27 for the NDP.

The poll results are considered accurate to with two percentage points 19 times out of 20.

A Decima poll in mid-September showed the Liberals leading the Tories by seven points (36 per cent to 29) and by 10 points in Ontario (43 per cent to 33). At that time, the NDP was at 17 per cent nationally.

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