POLITICS
08/30/2011 05:37 EDT | Updated 10/30/2011 05:12 EDT

Without Layton, Harper's Leadership Numbers Jump In Quebec

CP File

On the eve of Jack Layton’s death, the NDP still dominated the province that swung so decisively in its favour on May 2.

But there are signs that the party’s support in Quebec could be at risk.

A CROP poll for La Presse that surveyed 1,000 Quebecers between August 17 and 22 found that the New Democrats still enjoyed 40 per cent support in the province, down insignificantly from the 42.9 per cent of votes cast in Quebec on election night.

The Conservatives stood at 22 per cent, up a more significant — but still modest — five points since May 2.

However, compared to CROP’s last poll in the province carried out in June, it is clear that the NDP’s position in the province could be fragile.

In that poll, the New Democrats stood at a whopping 53 per cent support. Since then, the NDP has dropped 13 points, with support leaking to each of the other four major federal parties. The Conservatives were at 18 per cent in that poll, meaning the Tories have picked up four points in the last two months.

But the most telling shift comes in the leadership numbers. In June, Jack Layton was considered the best person to be Canada’s prime minister by 48 per cent of Quebecers, eclipsing Stephen Harper’s 16 per cent and interim Liberal leader Bob Rae’s five percent.

Though this new poll was taken before Layton’s death, CROP replaced Jack Layton’s name with that of Nycole Turmel, interim leader of the party. This led to Harper topping the list with 21 per cent, a gain of five points. Turmel stood at only 11 per cent, 37 points behind Layton's June numbers, while Rae’s score was bumped to 10 per cent.

The orphaned respondents who thought Layton would make the best PM in June opted instead for “none of the above” (29 per cent) or “don’t know” (23 per cent), an increase of 13 and 10 points respectively. This makes up for almost two-thirds of the drop between Layton’s and Turmel’s numbers. The support of many Quebecers, it appears, may be up for grabs.

Nevertheless, the New Democrats are still in a very strong position. In addition to an 18-point lead over the Tories, the NDP is well ahead of the Bloc Québécois (20 per cent) and the Liberals (12 per cent).

The NDP holds comfortable leads among francophones (41 per cent to the Bloc’s 24 per cent), non-francophones (36 per cent to the Tories’ 31 per cent), in Montreal and outside of the province’s two major centres.

The Liberals are especially troubled, down two points from the election and four points in and around Montreal, the only part of the province that elected Liberal MPs on May 2. Conversely, the Conservatives are doing well in Montreal (up nine points) and especially in and around Quebec City, standing at 46 per cent support – an increase of almost 20 points since the election.

With these numbers, the New Democrats would likely still win about 58 seats in Quebec, down only one seat from their Quebec caucus’s current standing in the House of Commons. The Conservatives, however, would pick up seven new seats, with gains both in Quebec City and on the island of Montreal. The Liberals would be reduced to four seats (including those currently occupied by Denis Coderre, Justin Trudeau, and Stéphane Dion) while the Bloc would hold on to only one: that of Jean-François Fortin, one of the likely candidates for the party’s leadership.

The next leader of the NDP will take over a party leading in the polls in Quebec, but maintaining that support over the next four years will likely be his or her greatest challenge.

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