OTTAWA — It seemed inconceivable when the federal election began in early August, but Justin Trudeau is now openly gunning for his third-place Liberals to form a majority government when Canadians go to the polls Monday.
Trudeau's hunt for a red October isn't pure fantasy, say pollsters who have been tracking the Liberal renaissance, but it could still go down like a stricken U-boat.
With just four days of campaigning left, national horse race polls from a variety of research firms suggest the Liberals have opened a statistically significant lead over the Conservatives in the last week, although the data has by no means been uniform.
Nonetheless, Trudeau on Wednesday flatly stated what party insiders have been quietly whispering for days.
"Am I asking Canadians to vote for us? Yes," Trudeau responded when asked about a majority government during a stop at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ont.
"Am I asking them to vote for us across the country? Yes. Am I asking them for a majority government? Yes."
Since Oct. 9, six different polling firms have placed the Liberals at the top of the leaderboard with public support in the mid-30s, while Conservative party support held steady around 30 per cent and the New Democrats polled in the mid- to low 20s.
Only pollsters Angus Reid Institute and Forum Research have showed Conservative leads in the last week and both had the Liberals and Tories bunched within the margin of error.
For a party and leader that began the election campaign on Aug. 2 firmly in third place — in public support, in leadership ratings and in incumbent seats in the previous Parliament — the turnaround is little short of amazing, says pollster Greg Lyle of Innovative Research Group.
Still, Lyle was surprised to hear that Trudeau is now talking majority on the hustings.
"I'm not sure I would say that, if I were them," said Lyle, who cut his political teeth working for Manitoba's former Progressive Conservative premier Gary Filmon.
"It really gives the Tories, in particular, something to anchor their fear attacks: 'Do you really want to let this guy (Trudeau) run unchecked through the halls of power for four years? God knows what they'll do. Look what they did to Ontario.' The script writes itself."
Having cautioned the Liberals on their majority musings, Lyle added: "But they're probably right."
Lyle says based on his polling the Liberal surge seems likely to result in some seat pick-ups in ridings that were Conservative and NDP "blow-outs" in the 2011, defined as margins of victory of more than 25 percentage points. If those ridings start turning red Monday night, look out.
Pollster Frank Graves of Ekos Research has been doing daily opinion tracking for most of the year and says that for 20 straight days up until a week ago he had the Conservatives in the lead. Since then, the Liberals have pulled ahead.
"Sure, if those trends continue, (Liberals) can aspire to a majority," said Graves. "Do I think it's the most likely outcome now? No."
Ekos surveys show the public currently sees the potential of a Liberal minority government or a Conservative minority as equally probable.
"But nobody, as yet, is seeing this as a majority," for the Liberals, said Graves. "In fact, it is Conservative supporters who are more likely to see a majority."
Since Confederation, no third-place party in the seat standings has ever vaulted to government in a single election campaign and occasions when a party added 100-plus seats are exceedingly rare.
Graves says Harper's Conservatives may benefit from better voter turnout and from the efficiency of the Conservative vote.
"He's not out of it yet."
The cautionary note on any perceived polling lead comes from recent past provincial experience.
British Columbia was gobsmacked in 2013 when Christy Clark's Liberals won a majority mandate after polls right up to voting day suggested an NDP majority was in the cards.
Lyle says poll obsessives should be especially wary of seat projection models this time around.
There are 30 new ridings in play, the boundaries of other ridings have been redrawn and models depend in part on extrapolating from the unusual 2011 election, in which Liberals had their worst result ever by far and the NDP its best.
"I think the patterns of the last election are history and we're going back to more traditional patterns," said Lyle.
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