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Why Trudeau’s Liberals could (nearly) sweep Atlantic Canada

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks to the Vancouver Board of Trade in Vancouver on Friday, April 11, 2014.

Jonatan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Liberals in the Atlantic are feeling bullish these days, some even making bold predictions that the NDP are on shaky ground and Justice Minister Peter MacKay is the only safe Tory in the region.

Although this may be overly optimistic, former Liberal interim leader Bob Rae was in Halifax the other night, rallying the troops at a fundraising dinner and taking shots at the fairness of the Harper government's so-called Fair Elections Act.

More than 200 people attended, paying $100 a plate. Compare this to several years ago when about half of that number showed up to hear Mr. Rae. That he was in a riding represented by the NDP since 1997 – first by former federal leader Alexa McDonough and now by deputy leader Megan Leslie – indicates, too, that the Liberals believe the NDP, especially now without the popular Jack Layton at the helm, are vulnerable.

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"It's kind of in sweep territory (for the federal Liberals)," said Don Mills, chairman and CEO of Corporate Research Associates (CRA), the polling firm in the Atlantic. His firm correctly called the recent provincial election in Nova Scotia that saw the Liberals defeat the one-term NDP government.

There are 32 federal seats in the Atlantic region – 13 are Liberal, 13 are Conservative and six are NDP. The Liberals are the third party in the House of Commons with 35 seats.

Currently, however, the Liberals have 56 per cent support of decided voters across the Atlantic, according to CRA's recent poll of 1,500 respondents. This compares to 23 per cent for the Harper Tories and the NDP with 18 per cent. The poll, conducted in February, is considered accurate plus or minus 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. (Graphic: check out a more detailed breakdown of the Atlantic poll.)

Mr. Mills' tracking showed a huge jump in Liberal support after Justin Trudeau was elected leader last April. For example, in the same polling period in 2011 – just before the May federal election – the Liberals under Michael Ignatieff were at 33 per cent compared to 43 per cent for the Harper Conservatives and 20 per cent for the NDP.

"We've had five weak economic years … in the region, so people are very unhappy with government both at the provincial level and at the national level," Mr. Mills said. "On top of that there's been a couple of policies that the federal government has put in place that have hit segments of our population a little harder, like EI reform, which is not very popular here. It almost seems like the Conservatives don't really care."

In Nova Scotia, where there are four Conservative MPs, including Mr. MacKay (who is extremely popular and considered untouchable), three NDP MPs and four Liberal MPs, the Liberals have 61 per cent support compared to 23 per cent for the Tories and 14 per cent for the NDP.

Greg Kerr, the Tory MP for West Nova, announced last week he will not run in the 2015 election, leaving at least one riding wide open. Mr. Kerr beat Liberal incumbent and former Chretien cabinet minister Robert Thibault in the 2008 federal election.

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Two ridings in Halifax, one represented by Ms. Leslie and the Dartmouth riding occupied by NDP MP Robert Chisholm – who narrowly beat Liberal incumbent Mike Savage (now Halifax Mayor) in 2011 – are of particular interest to the Liberals.

Federal Liberals note the provincial ridings within Ms. Leslie's federal seat went almost entirely Liberal in last fall's provincial election.

In New Brunswick, the Liberals have 45 per cent support of decided voters compared to 25 per cent for both the Conservatives and NDP; in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Liberals are riding high, too, with 63 per cent support. The Tories are at 20 per cent and the NDP have 16 per cent. In PEI, the Liberals are at 53 per cent followed by the Conservatives with 22 per cent and NDP with 17 per cent.

Mr. Mills cautions that the numbers always tighten up closer to an election – and the Tories are not panicking.

For them, they believe it can only get better: "A lot of headaches of ours have fallen by the wayside in the last couple of weeks. Robocalls for one, Nigel as well," said a senior Conservative strategist. He was referring to the fact the RCMP is not laying charges against Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister's former chief of staff, who gave Mike Duffy $90,000 to pay his housing expenses.

In addition, the Canada elections commissioner recently announced he was ending his investigation into the robocalls during the 2011 election.

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Jane Taber is The Globe's Atlantic bureau chief.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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