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Poll shows increasing voter skepticism about Harper government

Stephen Harper delivers an address in the foyer of the Commons on March 23.

Adrian Wyld

With the start of an election campaign only a day or two away, a new poll reveals that many people trust Stephen Harper less than they did a year ago.

Whether that concern trumps voter confidence in how the Conservatives are handling economic challenges could determine the outcome of the election.

A poll conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV by Nanos Research shows that 41 per cent of Canadians trust the Conservative government less than they did a year ago. Only 6 per cent trust it more. Forty-eight per cent feel about the same, and 5 per cent just don't know.

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"This speaks to the potential vulnerability of the Harper government," said pollster Nik Nanos. "It speaks to why the opposition parties are so hot to attack the government on trust and ethics."

This increased skepticism is the legacy of the 2010 prorogation, the (mostly unfounded) allegations about former cabinet minister Helena Guergis, the secretive axing of the mandatory long-form census, sundry hirings and firings of executives in government-funded agencies, RCMP investigations into interference in access-to-information protocols and allegations of illegal lobbying, charges related to election financing, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda's testimony about a memo that cut funds to an aid agency, and other controversies and misdemeanours.

"It's like death by paper cuts," Mr. Nanos observed. "None of these things by themselves would topple a government, but it could be that there's an accumulation effect that's taking place."

Even those who identified themselves as Conservative supporters are less than happy with the Harper government's recent behaviour. Twenty-six per cent said the government had become less trustworthy, as opposed to 9 per cent who thought to Conservatives more reliable.

Trust has gone down the most in Quebec (49 per cent trusted the Conservatives less) and Atlantic Canada (48 per cent), while Ontario (36 per cent) and the Prairies (35 per cent) were more forgiving.

Increasing concern about government ethics was also reflected when respondents were asked to rank which mattered more: "a government working to manage the economy or a government's record in accountability and transparency?"

Forty-eight per cent chose transparency; 47 per cent chose the economy - a tie, given the three-percentage-point margin of error.

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But Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff should pause before celebrating. Most polls continue to show the Conservatives well ahead of the Liberals. An Ipsos-Reid poll released on Thursday has the Conservatives at 43-per-cent support, in majority-government territory, with the Liberals far behind at 24 per cent. The NDP enjoyed 16 per cent support, while the Bloc Québécois has 41 per cent of the vote in Quebec.

Trust hasn't trumped the economy yet, Mr. Nanos said. But for the Conservatives, "it's a vulnerability."

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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