With a new leader at the helm of the Liberal Party and the whiff of scandal in the Conservative government's handling of Senate problems, the New Democrats under Thomas Mulcair have drifted into the background of Canadian politics.

What is going on with the NDP?

The Liberal Party has dominated headlines despite its third-place position in the House of Commons, even before Justin Trudeau was selected as leader in April. Accordingly, the polls have shown a surge in Grit support. Though the party's numbers are falling back down to Earth after flirting with 40 per cent and majority-government territory, they are nevertheless ahead of the pack and showing impressive growth in Quebec — the likely stage of 2015's most hotly contested battleground.

The Trudeau honeymoon has been undoubtedly boosted by the problems Stephen Harper's Conservatives have been suffering, primarily due to the Duffy-Wright affair and the government's changing story concerning what happened and who knew what when.

Mulcair won praise from the press gallery for grilling the prime minister in the House of Commons with pointed, effective questions about the scandal. His performance stood in sharp contrast from the unfocused approach often on display in a typical question period. By many accounts, Mulcair demonstrated that while Trudeau might have the charm, the leader of the Official Opposition was Harper’s real adversary.

But his performance has not paid much dividend in the polls. Mulcair's own arrival on the political scene was followed by a surge in NDP support as the party moved into first place. But when his numbers dropped, they settled at around 28 to 29 per cent at the end of 2012 and the first few months of 2013. Compared to where the NDP had traditionally been in the polls, and the 31 per cent the party took in the 2011 federal election, it was not a bad place to be. A challenge to the Tories could easily be mounted from such a platform.

However, the party has since fallen to around 23 or 24 per cent support and third place. The party has taken a hit in the West worth a few points and has also sagged in Atlantic Canada, but the growth it managed in Ontario and surge of support Mulcair gave the NDP in Quebec has all but disappeared. The New Democrats are now in the low-20s in Ontario as voters in the province return to the Liberal tent. After all, Ontario was the primary source of Jean Chrétien's majorities in 1993, 1997, and 2000.

In Quebec, the NDP has fallen behind the Liberals and is now being challenged by the Bloc Québécois for runner-up status. The province remains in a state of flux, with some polls showing the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Québécois within a whisker of each other, others showing the Liberals soaring above, and still others putting the Bloc in the mid-teens. The only consensus is on the poor state of Conservatives in the province.

The accident at Lac-Mégantic has turned attention away from the federal scene but, if anything, the event has only worsened things for Tories. They have widely been seen in the province as having handled the tragedy much worse than the provincial government of Pauline Marois, which has received praise. In that context, remarks Mulcair made linking the federal government with the accident — roundly criticized outside of Quebec — may not have been received so negatively by the local audience.

The New Democrats are in a tricky position. Voters are still unfamiliar with the party, a large percentage of whom voted for the NDP at the federal level for the first time in 2011. A charismatic leader of the Liberals — and the aura of a winner, at least in light of the polls — makes it difficult for New Democrats to capitalize on the Liberal fatigue that propelled the NDP to their historic breakthrough in 2011.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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  • Little-Known Mulcair Facts

    Here are some facts you may not have known about NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. (CP)

  • 10. He Used To Be A Liberal

    <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair was Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks</a> in Jean Charest's Liberal government in Quebec. He served in the role from 2003-2006. (CP)

  • 8. He's French (Kind Of)

    Mulcair married Catherine Pinhas in 1976. She was born in France to a Turkish family of Sephardic Jewish descent. <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" target="_hplink">Mulcair has French citizenship through his marriage</a>, as do the couple's two sons. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 7. They Used To Be Friends

    <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair left Charest's Liberal government in Quebec </a>after he was offered the position of Minister of Government Services in 2006, an apparent demotion from Minister of the Environment. Mulcair has said his ouster was related to his opposition to a government plan to transfer land in the Mont Orford provincial park to condo developers. (CP)

  • 6. Ancestor Was Premier Of Quebec

    Mulcair's great-great-grandfather on his mother's side was <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor%C3%A9_Mercier" target="_hplink">Honoré Mercier, the ninth premier of Quebec</a>. (Public Domain/Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)

  • 5. First!

    <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair was the first New Democrat to win a riding in Quebec during a federal election</a>. He held the riding of Outremont during the 2008 election after first winning the seat in a 2007 by-election. Phil Edmonston was the first New Democrat to win a seat in Quebec, but his win came in a 1990 by-election. Robert Toupin was the very first to bring a Quebec seat to the NDP, but he did it in 1986 by crossing the floor. (Alamy)

  • 4. He's Half Irish.

    <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair's father Harry Donnelly Mulcair was Irish-Canadian</a> and his mother Jeanne French-Canadian. His father spoke to him in English and his mother in French -- explaining his fluency in both official languages. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • 3. He Votes In France

    Muclair has voted in past French elections, but after becoming leader of the Official Opposition <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1157191" target="_hplink">he said he would not cast a ballot in the French presidential vote</a>. (Thinkstock)

  • 2. Young Love At First Sight

    <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" target="_hplink">Mulcair met his future wife at a wedding when they were both teenagers</a>. Catherine was visiting from France. They married two years later when they were both 21. (CP)

  • 1. Mr. Angry

    <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/03/16/thomas-mulcair-is-mr-angry/" target="_hplink">Mulcair was given the moniker in a Maclean's headline</a>, but the new leader of the NDP has long been known for his short fuse. In 2005, he was fined $95,000 for defamatory comments he made about former PQ minister Yves Duhaime on TV. The comments included French vulgarity and an accusation that alleged influence peddling would land Duhaime in prison.

  • UP NEXT: Canadian Politicians Who Have Tried Marijuana

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  • Justin Trudeau

    The federal Liberal leader opened up to HuffPost about his experience with marijuana in August. "Sometimes, I guess, I have gotten a buzz, but other times no. I’m not really crazy about it.”

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  • Jim Flaherty

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  • Marc Garneau

    The Liberal MP and Canada's first astronaut said he tried marijuana as a <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Politics/Power+%26+Politics/ID/2402495133/" target="_blank">student in the 1970s in England. </a> "It's not my thing. I stopped because it wasn't doing anything for me."

  • Kathleen Wynne

    The premier of Ontario said she <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/28/kathleen-wynne-marijuana-pot_n_3830736.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-politics" target="_blank">smoked pot decades ago</a>. "I have smoked marijuana but not for the last 35 years."

  • Darrell Dexter

    Said the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/29/darrell-dexter-marijuana-pot_n_3837009.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-politics" target="_blank">premier of Nova Scotia</a>: "Like every other person I knew back in the '70s when I went to university, some of whom are actually in this room, I would have tried it, the same as other people at that time."

  • Christy Clark

    Said the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/01/christy-clark-marijuana-use-pot_n_1469321.html" target="_blank">premier of British Columbia</a>: "I graduated from Burnaby South Senior Secondary in 1983 and there was a lot of that going on when I was in high school and I didn't avoid it all together."

  • Tim Hudak

    The leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario admitted he's <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2011/08/18/hudak_admits_to_smoking_pot.html" target="_blank">puffed in the past.</a> "I was a normal kid, I had a normal upbringing, a normal life in university. I experimented from time to time with marijuana. It’s a long time ago in the past and in the grand scheme of things."

  • Paul Martin

    The former prime minister of Canada <a href="http://www.ctvnews.ca/" target="_blank">told CTV News</a>: "The answer is: I never smoked. I never smoked anything, but there was an earlier time, years ago, when (my wife) made some brownies and they did have a strange taste."

  • Kim Campbell

    The former prime minister admitted while running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives that <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/08/22/chris-selley-trudeau-pot-revelation-underscores-one-of-his-few-actual-policy-positions/" target="_blank">she tried weed.</a> "And I inhaled the smoke."

  • Jack Layton

    Said the former NDP leader: "Yes, and some might say I never exhaled."

  • Dalton McGuinty

    The former premier of Ontario said he <a href="http://www.cfdp.ca/cita99.htm" target="_blank">experimented in his teens</a>, but only twice.

  • Brad Wall

    The premier of Saskatchewan said he was an <a href="http://www.canada.com/topics/news/politics/story.html?id=f23471e8-be96-46cf-9c1f-b43d5c497cdd" target="_blank">"infrequent" user back in university.</a> "It didn't really do anything for me, luckily, because for some, it does lead to other things."