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PM faces 'critical mass of frustration,' polls suggest

A beluga whale swims past Prime Minister Stephen Harper as he makes a funding announcement at the Vancouver Aquarium on Aug. 9, 2010.

The Canadian Press

1. Neck and neck. Stephen Harper's Conservatives and Michael Ignateiff's Liberals are in a virtual dead heat in a new national opinion poll, confirming the narrowing lead and substantive drop of the Tories first revealed last week.

This is now provoking a debate between pollsters as to the timing of the next election. One says it's not going to happen; the other says it could be coming soon.

First, the latest poll by Ipsos Reid for Postmedia News and Global Television has the Conservatives with 34 per cent support compared to 31 per cent for the Liberals - within the margin of error. The NDP are polling at 15 per cent; the Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois are both at 9 per cent.

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Last week, EKOS pollster Frank Graves found the Tories had dropped 10 points in less than a month, narrowing the gap between themselves and the opposition Liberals - 29.7 per cent for the Tories compared to 28.5 per cent for the Grits.

While Mr. Graves suggested the controversy over the government's decision to scrap the compulsory long-form census was the reason for the Tory slide, Ipsos pollster John Wright sees it differently.

He attributes the narrowing of the gap to the brouhaha over the G20 summit in Toronto. His numbers show that in Ontario, the Liberals and Conservatives are in a statistical tie - 35 per cent and 36 per cent respectively. The Liberals have also gained ground nationally, suggesting Mr. Ignatieff's bus tour is helping.

The Ipsos poll of 1,000 Canadians was conducted between Aug. 4 and Aug. 9. It has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Regardless of the narrow gap, Mr. Wright does not believe there will be an election any time soon because no one can win a majority government at this time. "The reality is that if everybody knows that all you're going to get is a minority you can take your time."

The Bloc is just too strong in Quebec to free up seats necessary for either the Conservatives or Liberals to form a majority government, Mr. Wright added.

But Mr. Graves has a different take: "Wow! To be blunt, I was concerned about our poll, as it came in the summer, and it was a pretty abrupt shift," he told The Globe on Tuesday morning.

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"The Ipsos poll suggests that our poll did catch a major shift in voter sentiments. What is remarkable about this shift is that it comes in the midst of the summer, a period when the public are typically blissfully unconcerned with politics. This might suggest that the negative effects of the census decision on the government may be muted to this point."

If this is true, he said, the chances of a fall election "have now shifted to more likely than not."

And that is because the opposition could sense that this "new shift for the PM" could represent a "critical mass of frustration within the electorate and in particular a growing fatigue amongst the more educated portion."

Mr. Graves added that the government now has a choice: continue to be "battered" by its unpopular decision on the census or "flip flop on the basis of poor polls."

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2. Typing on the fly. After weeks on the road, traveling thousands of kilometers on a bus through Canada, Michael Ignatieff has learned: "It's a helluva big country!"

The Liberal Leader is joking - sort of - as he participated in a live, online chat Monday with The Mark, while traveling on the Liberal Express. Mr. Ignatieff and his team were on their way from Ottawa to Pembroke, Ont.

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The Liberal Leader added that he's also learned Canadians "care about it [the country] They want politics that respects them."

This is not exactly a profound answer from a politician who is often criticized for speaking platitudes rather than policy.

Why the bus? Mr. Ignatieff offered another predictable answer:

"Best way to get politics off the Hill and the bubble of Ottawa and down to the farm gate, the cottage backyard and the wharf. And the bus isn't that uncomfortable. My wife travels with me after all."

Asked by The Mark's editor-in-chief, Jordan Himelfarb (son of former Privy Council clerk Alex Himelfarb), about health care, Mr. Ignatieff attempted to go deeper than the tops of the waves:

"20 cents of every dollar spent on health care in Canada comes from the federal government so we're involved," Mr. Ignatieff wrote. "We'll be renegotiating the health care accord with provinces in 2014 and we're going to need a government that actually believes in universally accessible publicly funded health care and is prepared to work with provinces to reduce inequalities in access in care and treatment."

And the Liberal Leader was also asked if he thought his decision to rule out a coalition with the opposition last year a mistake. Would he reconsider?

"We ARE the coalition, at the centre of Canadian politics," Mr. Ignatieff wrote. "We want to draw in Canadian conservatives who wonder where the progressive went in conservatism and appeal to NDP and Green voters who know that if they want action on the environment, they should vote Liberal, because the alternative is four more years of inaction by the Harper government."

Noting it "ain't easy" typing on a bus, Mr. Ignatieff signed off: "It's a long and winding road … but it's been fun. Let's do it again. Bye."

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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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