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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Sept. 30, 2009.


Elsewhere here, Andrew Steele argues that the red team shouldn't panic in the face of the latest public domain poll, deeply buried (for some reason) in the Toronto Star.

I don't know. People in the middle of a strategy to force an election this fall probably should panic in the face of numbers like that.

But the good news for Michael Ignatieff and my fellow Toronto residents running that party is that they can probably count on the "socialists" and the "separatists" once again.

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Always trying to be helpful, one way or another.

The "socialists," because Jack Layton and the New Democrats seem clear in their minds that, absent a fundamental new development or a gross provocation from the government, an election doesn't make strategic sense now.

The "separatists," because the continuing local strength of the gesture that is the Bloc Quebecois seems to be a fundamental roadblock to a majority government for any federal party.

This being so, the Liberals have some reason to hope that Stephen Harper will be less tempted to exploit their vulnerability this fall -- unlike the events a year ago, when Harper efficiently sacked Stephane Dion, but lost his majority in Quebec.

It is a mistake to make decisions based on one poll. It's the overall trend from twenty or thirty of them that matters. But the Toronto Star's poll does tend to confirm a number of apparent truths about federal politics as set out in the overall flow of public domain polling:

The Conservatives are holding all of the support that got them elected -- although they still don't add up to much more than the Reform Party plus the Progressive Conservatives as they stood in 2003.

This government is a quirk of our antiquated and undemocratic electoral system (as is the Bloc Quebecois), not a fundamental breakthrough for libertarian/keynesian/fiscally drunk Bush-style conservatism -- yet.

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The Liberal party has been in long-term decline since 1980 and this process has not been halted, so far, by yet another new leader.

The fundamental change is Quebec. Every Liberal leader between Laurier and Trudeau could start the quest for a majority on the basis of a lock on Quebec. Not anymore.

Now Liberal strategy must be built on growing out from their sole remaining fortress in the Greater Toronto Area. As events in recent days have demonstrated, that's not always as helpful a place to start.

The opposition parties need to find a way to undermine Harper's credibility, even as the good fortune of a minority parliament protects the country from most of this government's darker instincts.

Too many key indicators ("time for a change," "leader best at," "overall satisfaction," and "country is on the right track/wrong track") are currently trending towards being positive for Mr.Harper and his government. These are leading indicators of where voting intentions might be in a few months.

Layton's leadership numbers are improving, and Ignatieff's are going through a bad patch.

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If these trends continue, by spring Layton will again be in a position to directly challenge Harper whenever the next election does occur -- ignoring Ignatieff except when the Liberal campaign takes potshots at him. There are many virtues to such a campaign from the perspective of the orange team. A key one is that it makes voters question those who claim Canadians only have two choices for prime minister in federal elections -- turning those claims into a campaign asset.

None of this is particularly encouraging as seen from the official mansion of the Leader of the Official Opposition (is that the "OMLOO"?)

Perhaps a little bit of panic might be in order there, at least if anyone there is still interested in a fall election.

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