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Ignatieff's support slips on sabre-rattling

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks to reporters on the final day of the party's summer caucus retreat in Sudbury on Sept 2, 2009.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Canadians think Michael Ignatieff is wrong to try to force an election this fall and the Liberal leader's popularity has nosedived as a result, a new poll suggests.

The Harris-Decima survey conducted for The Canadian Press also suggests Liberal fortunes have dipped, with the Conservatives taking a slight lead nationally - 34 per cent to 31.

The NDP was at 15 per cent, the Greens at 10, and the Bloc Quebecois at eight.

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The Liberals briefly enjoyed a small lead last spring, which abruptly vanished when Mr. Ignatieff flirted with the idea of forcing a summer election. They then rebounded somewhat, spending most of the summer stuck in a statistical tie with the Tories.

But renewed election-mongering from Mr. Ignatieff last week appears to have cost the party - and its leader - once again.

According to the survey, 50 per cent of respondents thought the Liberal Leader was wrong to declare his party will no longer prop up Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government. Only 38 per cent thought he was right.

An overwhelming 73 per cent said an election is not needed this fall; only 21 per cent thought it necessary.

That may help explain why voters have veered from a net positive opinion of Mr. Ignatieff to a net negative impression.

Forty-one per cent of respondents said they have a negative impression of Ignatieff - a jump of 15 points since March. Thirty-nine per cent had a favourable impression, down six points.

Mr. Harper isn't doing much better - impressions of the prime minister remained virtually unchanged with 45 per cent having a favourable opinion and 47 per cent having an unfavourable opinion.

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Nor is NDP Leader Jack Layton, of whom 44 per cent had a positive impression and 42 per cent had a negative impression.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May had a net positive score of 34 to 29 per cent while Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe scored a favourable opinion from 55 per cent of Quebeckers.

Jeff Walker, Harris-Decima's senior vice-president, said the poll suggests not much would change if an election were held now. And that may help explain why Canadians, never thrilled about the prospect of an election, are so adamantly opposed to one this fall.

"I think a lot of people are saying, 'Boy, a $300-million expense a year after we just had an election to get a result that looks to us to be not that different from where it is today, is that really a necessary expenditure in this [economic]climate?'" Mr. Walker said.

"And I think that is a little bit different than the typical 'I don't want an election' that we hear often."

In Quebec, where Liberal strategists are hoping to capture up to 30 seats, the Bloc remains solidly in front with 36 per cent support. The Liberals had 31 per cent, the Conservatives 16 per cent, the NDP nine and the Greens six.

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Mr. Walker said a similar result on election day would mean the Liberals would gain only a handful of seats from the Tories in Quebec.

In the crucial battleground of Ontario, the Liberals were at 39 per cent, followed closely by the Tories at 34 per cent, the NDP at 16 and the Greens at 10.

The Tories opened up a substantial lead in British Columbia, with 37 per cent to the Liberals' 27 per cent, the NDP's 19 and the Greens' 16.

If there is a fall election campaign, Mr. Harper and the Tories have signalled they intend to raise the spectre of Mr. Ignatieff reforging a coalition with the NDP and Bloc to form government. Ignatieff's predecessor, Stéphane Dion, tried the coalition ploy last November, sparking a massive public backlash.

But the poll suggests the coalition idea isn't necessarily the bogeyman Tories think it is; there are circumstances in which most Canadians would support it.

If the next election results in a minority, 55 per cent said the leading partner should seek out a coalition partner to extend the life of the Parliament.

The telephone survey of just over 2,000 Canadians was conducted Aug. 27 to Sept. 6. A sample this size is considered accurate to within 2.2 percentage points 19 times in 20.

The margin of error is larger for smaller provincial sub-samples.

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