The race for the Liberal leadership might kick off as early as next month, with the final vote held a little less than a year from now. But with more than half of the electorate giving up on the Grits, and a solid majority of party supporters favouring a merger with the NDP, what kind of prize will the party's next leader be winning?
An Ipsos-Reid poll found that 64 per cent of Liberal supporters like the idea of merging with the New Democrats. Even 57 per cent of NDP voters would support such a merger. Assuming the proportion of voters on the left who want a merger cast their ballot for this hypothetical party, it would likely be enough to oust the Conservatives from power. But if a third of Liberal voters swing to the Tories, that result becomes less than a sure thing.
But while Liberals might like the idea of merging with the NDP, there is little to sell the New Democrats on the older party. When 56 per cent of Canadians, and even 21 per cent of Liberals, call the Grits the "party of the past" such a merger could be as much a burden as a blessing for the NDP.
The survey showed 65 per cent of Canadians think the NDP has a better chance of beating the Conservatives, with only 35 per cent saying the Liberals have better odds of defeating Stephen Harper. If the progressive vote is truly split between the two parties, those on the fence are more likely to vote for a winner - or at least the party perceived to be a winner. That could spell disaster for the Liberals.
But all is not doom and gloom. Though 52 per cent of Canadians have "written-off" the Liberals, the other 48 per cent believe the party still has some life left in it and can win elections again. Of course, the number of people who have given up on the party is likely much higher than those who feel the Conservatives and New Democrats are spent forces, but with our electoral system a party can win an election with a lot less than 48 per cent of the vote. And the proportion of Canadians who would never vote Tory or NDP is usually also quite high.
Nevertheless, the Liberal Party has a steep hill to climb. Is Bob Rae the person to bring the party back to prominence? He performed well against the Nycole Turmel-led NDP but has since been eclipsed by Thomas Mulcair. Ipsos-Reid found only 18 per cent of Canadians have a positive impression of the interim Liberal leader, compared to 35 per cent who view Justin Trudeau positively.
While Trudeau maintains he is not thinking about a leadership run at this time, he is head and shoulders above the other likely candidates. Marc Garneau scored a 16 per cent positive rating in the survey, while David McGuinty, Gerrard Kennedy and Daniel Leblanc all had six per cent or less. This is not because they are disliked - a majority of Canadians simply had no impression of them. Rae and Trudeau are the only two with wide name recognition, but Rae had the higher negative impression score.
Facing long odds, the Liberals have an important choice to make. The next leader will have to rebuild the party or preside over its dissolution. Perhaps thinking it over for10 months isn't a bad idea.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.
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