A new poll suggests the federal Conservatives have jumped four percentage points ahead of Liberals as Canadians weigh consistency against the prospect of change in the lead-up to the next election.
And while that may not seem like much of a lead, Ipsos Reid senior vice-president John Wright says those numbers could put Tories close to majority government territory.
According to the Ipsos survey for Global News, released Thursday, Tories sit at 35 per cent support nationally — a jump of two percentage points since December. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are at 31 per cent, down three points from last month. In September, Ipsos numbers gave Liberals a seven-point lead.
Thomas Mulcair's New Democrats are stuck in third at 24 per cent, virtually unchanged from last month but seven points lower than where the party stood during its surge in the 2011 federal election.
Elizabeth May’s Greens are at four per cent support, Mario Beaulieu’s Bloc Quebecois are at six per cent support (but 25 per cent support in Quebec), while 17 per cent of respondents told the firm they are undecided.
The numbers show Conservatives have broken a tie in vote-rich Ontario and are now leading Liberals by seven percentage points, 41 per cent to 34 per cent. The NDP is at 21 per cent in Canada’s most populous province.
The survey also pegs Harper’s personal approval rating at 49 per cent — the highest it has been since 2012.
The poll was conducted online between January 6 and 11, among a sample of 1,915 Canadians. It is considered accurate to within 2.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Wright told The Huffington Post Canada Friday that “if the Tories have a four-point lead, they’re in really good shape.”
For starters, Wright points to the fact that there will be new riding boundaries and 30 more seats at play in the next election to reflect population changes. Fifteen of those seats will be in Ontario, six each in Alberta and British Columbia and three in Quebec.
Last year, Elections Canada took the 2011 election results and redistributed the votes over the riding maps that will be used this year. The agency found Tories would have won 22 more seats in the last election had those boundaries existed. The NDP would have gained six and Liberals would have gained just two.
Another thing that may boost Tory fortunes, Wright says, is the fact that the Liberal vote looks to be somewhat “inefficient.” Though the poll shows Liberals with a commanding lead of 41 per cent support in Atlantic Canada, which boosts their national support level, there aren’t many seats in the Maritimes.
Wright says Conservatives will concentrate on “everything west of the Quebec border,” and will need a good lead in Ontario, like the one reflected in this poll, to have a shot at a majority.
“In Ontario, with that seven-point lead at the moment, it means that they’re picking up all of the 905,” he said, referring to the vote-rich suburbs surrounding Toronto.
“Urban Canada, Quebec and the Maritimes are left for the NDP and Liberals to fight it out.”
Wright says concerns over tumbling oil prices and terrorism might also play into Harper’s hands, politically.
“A troubling economy actually plays to their strong suit. It’s the number one thing they get marks on,” he said. “Security and national affairs, they also score very high on. So, we're suggesting these are two Tory planks that give them good momentum.”
A federal election is scheduled for October 19 of this year. However, there has been speculation Harper could pull the plug this spring to capitalize on positive poll numbers and avoid potential fallout from disgraced Sen. Mike Duffy’s trial in April.
But, in the minds of many, that speculation was put to rest by Finance Minister Joe Oliver’s announcement Thursday that the next federal budget will be delayed until at least April.
With a file from The Canadian Press