Justin Trudeau May Be Harper's New Best Friend, Polls Suggest

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You would think <a href=Justin Trudeau would be on Stephen Harper's enemies list, but two new polls suggest the Liberal leadership front-runner may actually be the PM's new best friend. (CP)" />
You would think Justin Trudeau would be on Stephen Harper's enemies list, but two new polls suggest the Liberal leadership front-runner may actually be the PM's new best friend. (CP)

You would think Justin Trudeau would be on Stephen Harper's enemies list, but two new polls suggest the Liberal leadership front-runner may actually be the PM's new best friend.

A new survey from Ipsos Reid for Postmedia News and Global Television, has confirmed the findings of an Abacus Data poll earlier in the week: the NDP is bleeding support to the Liberals and the Tories are reaping the benefits.

The Ipsos Reid poll puts the Liberals at 26 per cent support, just behind the NDP at 30 per cent and the Tories at 34 per cent. The real news, however, is the Grits' surging fortunes. As the buzz around the party's leadership race has increased, the Liberals have jumped 8 per cent since June, almost entirely at the expense of the NDP.

The results are nearly identical to the Abacus poll from earlier in the week, which put the Tories at 36 per cent, the NDP at 29 per cent and the Liberals at 22 per cent. While the Liberals' overall support was lower in the Abacus survey, it also showed a recent spike in support.

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The credit for the Liberal surge may very well belong to Trudeau and the charisma he has injected into Canadian politics, something Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Reid, believes is particularly important to voters on the left, according to Postmedia.

"For some reason, at this stage of the game, it looks like Trudeau’s been able to bring that back into the Liberal party and made them a threat again," Bricker told Postmedia.

But an increased Liberal threat, plus diminished NDP support, equals more victories for Harper and the Conservatives.

The NDP breakthrough in the last election and the collapse in support for the Liberals offered the possibility that Canada's centre-left was coalescing around a single party for the first time since Paul Martin won his minority government in 2004.

But just over a year after Jack Layton's death, it seems the prospect of an NDP government is rapidly diminishing.

All that would change instantly if the NDP merged with the Liberals, but both Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair have ruled out uniting the centre-left.

Of course, a lot could happen between now and the next federal election that would change the vote-splitting dynamic likely to hand Harper another government.

Trudeau could fail to live up to expectations during the leadership campaign and the surge in Liberal support could recede. Then again, he may turn out to be every bit his father's son and capture enough support — from NDP, Bloc, and Green voters — to defeat the Tories.

When the next federal vote takes place in 2015, Harper will have been PM for nine years. There are already signs the party's backbenchers are beginning to resist the will of the Prime Minister's Office as their hopes of ever securing cabinet posts fade.

"[Harper] remains respected for leading the party into majority government but he is not loved and, crucially, he is no longer feared," according to the National Post's John Ivison. They may even begin to cast votes against their own party.

Party infighting, as the Liberals know all too well, can be a recipe for electoral disaster.

But it's the economy that presents the greatest risk for the Tories. Contrary to the rosy picture painted by the government, Canada's economy is projected to grow just 1.5 per cent in 2013 and 2 per cent in 2014, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the deficit for 2012 will be $5 billion worse than expected, a result of "volatile and falling world commodity prices."

Blaming the global economic situation for anaemic growth has been an effective strategy for the Tories so far, but how well will it play in 2015, eight years after the start of the financial crisis?

A convincing Trudeau win, mounting Tory infighting and a weak economy would amount to conditions for a possible change election.

But that's all hypothetical. For now, Trudeau is the best thing to happen to the Tories in a long time.

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