Michael Ignatieff's Liberals are ready to take on Stephen Harper in a federal campaign as internal polling shows them up three percentage points from the last election and just six points behind the governing Conservatives.
The new data was presented to the Liberal caucus Tuesday afternoon by Michael Marzolini. The party pollster did not discuss election timing. Rather, he indicated that during the next election -_ whenever it comes - the Liberals will be competitive with the Tories.
Mr. Marzolini is advocating that Liberals not provoke an election, according to an inside source, but rather wait for the Conservatives to make the first move.
The pollster's numbers show the Liberals with the support of 29 per cent of Canadians compared to 35 per cent for the Tories; the NDP are polling at 18 per cent, the Bloc has 9 per cent and the Green Party has the support of 7 per cent of Canadians.
The Tories have dropped three points from the 2008 election while the Liberals have gained three points. The NDP remains where it was in the federal campaign.
As for policy, Mr. Marzolini said the No. 1 issue among Canadians is the economy - but, with a slightly different twist. It is all about "survival issues" for Canadians now, including how to pay the mortgage, how to pay for their kids' education and how to safeguard their pensions.
And he outlined other issues of concern to Canadians, including government spending at the G8 and G20 summits. (He describes the hefty security tab as wasteful spending by a government that preached to rein in excess.)
The decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census is also resonating with Canadians, he said. The sleeper issue, however, is that of the spending billions of dollars on fighter jets.
Mr. Marzolini noted there is confusion as to why Canada needs to purchase the stealth-capable aircraft. Focus groups are asking: "What do we need them for?"
The pollster even drew a few laughs with a Star Trek reference when he said these futuristic jets might be useful if "al-Qaeda ever became allies with the Klingons."
Mr. Ignatieff has obviously been well-briefed by the pollster as the issues he raised are reflected in nearly all of the Liberal Leader's speeches and interviews.
Mr. Marzolini also tested attitudes towards Stephen Harper's leadership. He told the Liberal caucus that 32 per cent of soft Conservatives do not trust Mr. Harper with a majority government, up five percentage points from last year when he tested the same question.
Meanwhile, he believes the Liberals should be talking about their policies. They get more traction the more they put out their ideas and approaches, he said. But with only 16 per cent of Canadians paying attention to politics during the summer months, it's better to wait until after Labour Day to start laying out policy.