OTTAWA - Conservatives have launched their first concerted attack on Justin Trudeau — and a new poll may explain why.
The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey suggests the Liberal leadership front-runner's popularity is not the fleeting celebrity phenomenon that the skeptics had assumed.
It's actually increasing and has the potential to siphon off votes from all parties, including the Tories.
The poll was released Thursday just as the Conservatives pounced on a two-year-old television interview to accuse Trudeau of being anti-Alberta.
Forty-two per cent of respondents said they'd be certain or likely to vote Liberal in the next election if Trudeau was at the helm — enough to form a comfortable Liberal majority government.
That's up from 36 per cent in September and 33 per cent in June.
The poll suggests Trudeau's appeal is strongest in Atlantic Canada, where 60 per cent said they'd vote Liberal under his leadership, Quebec (48 per cent), British Columbia (43 per cent) and Ontario (41 per cent).
But the party's fortunes would improve markedly even in the Conservative stronghold of Alberta (30 per cent) and Manitoba and Saskatchewan (32 per cent).
Trudeau's appeal was consistent across urban and rural areas and among voters of all age groups.
A Trudeau-led Liberal party would bleed support from all rival parties, according to the poll. Forty-eight per cent of current New Democrat supporters said they'd vote Liberal with Trudeau at the helm, 44 per cent of Greens, 21 per cent of Conservatives and 22 per cent of Bloc Quebecois supporters.
The telephone poll of just over 1,000 Canadians was conducted Nov. 15-19 and is considered accurate within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.
The survey was conducted before damaging quotes from Trudeau's 2010 television interview surfaced Thursday in a Sun Media story. Within seconds, Tory MPs were fist-bumping each other in the House of Commons as the story flashed over their smart phones.
Minutes later, the Tories were handing out printed copies of the offending quotes to reporters outside the Commons. And Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who hails from Calgary, was dispatched to express outrage over them.
Trudeau's campaign swiftly issued a statement accusing the Tories of using "out-of-context statements made years ago in a long interview" to launch a desperate "smear campaign" aimed at reviving the faltering Conservative byelection campaign in Calgary Centre.
In the interview, with the Tele-Quebec program Les francs-tireurs, Trudeau said: "Canada isn't doing well right now because it's Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn't work."
Asked if he thinks Canada is better served when there are more Quebecers than Albertans in charge, he said: "I'm a Liberal so, of course, I think so, yes.
"Certainly, when we look at the great prime ministers of the 20th Century, those that really stood the test of time, they were MPs from Quebec .. This country, Canada, it belongs to us."
The resurrected Trudeau quotes piled on a gaffe a day earlier by Ottawa Liberal MP David McGuinty. He resigned his shadow cabinet post as natural resources critic after saying Alberta Tory MPs are "shills" for the oil industry and should go home.
Both were gifts to the Conservatives, who are trying to hold on to Calgary Centre — a Tory riding for more than 40 years — in a byelection Monday. Polls suggest it's a tight contest, with Liberal Harvey Locke only a few points behind Conservative Joan Crockatt.
Trudeau has repudiated McGuinty's comments. But Kenney said the Montreal MP's own comments two years ago show he actually shares the same anti-Alberta bias.
"This is the worst kind of divisiveness, the worst kind of arrogance of the Liberal party and it brings back, for many westerners, the kind of arrogance of the National Energy Program, which of course devastated the western economy," Kenney said.
The NEP was imposed when Trudeau's late father, Pierre Trudeau, was prime minister. Immediately after launching his leadership campaign last month, Justin Trudeau flew to Calgary to declare that the NEP was a mistake. He has been back to Alberta repeatedly, including campaigning with Locke earlier this week.
"Justin knows that Calgary, Alberta and all of western Canada are at the very heart of Canada's future," his campaign said in a statement.
"That's a message he has taken to every part of the country, from the beginning of the campaign. We need to get beyond the divisive politics of the Conservatives and include all Canadians."
But Kenney said Trudeau's past comments "completely contradict" his current attempt to paint himself as a unifying bridge-builder.
Dan Meades, the NDP candidate in Calgary Centre, also weighed in, calling Trudeau's past remarks "another example of how out of touch the Liberals are with the everyday realities of Alberta.
"What incredible arrogance. The NDP has a better vision."
The poll suggests none of Trudeau's rivals for the Liberal leadership have anywhere near as much appeal for voters.
Twenty per cent said they'd be certain or likely to vote for the Liberal party under former astronaut Marc Garneau's leadership, 15 per cent under former MP Martha Hall Findlay and 12 per cent under Vancouver MP Joyce Murray, former cabinet minister Martin Cauchon and Toronto lawyer and consultant Deborah Coyne.
Only 11 per cent said they'd vote Liberal under David Merner, former president of the party's B.C. wing, and 10 per cent under either Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi or economist Jonathan Mousley.