09/26/2011 01:55 EDT | Updated 11/27/2011 05:12 EST

Manitoba Election: Tories Hold Slight Lead In New Poll

WINNIPEG - With a week to go before Manitoba voters cast their ballots, an Environics poll has found those surveyed were evenly split between the governing New Democrats and the Opposition Progressive Conservatives.

Forty-five per cent of decided respondents backed the Opposition Tories, while 42 per cent supported the governing New Democrats. Only 10 per cent supported the Liberals, who had just one seat in the legislature when the Oct. 4 election was called.

"I would say that from the numbers we have, (the election) is as close as it could be to being a bit of a toss-up," Derek Leebosh, vice-president of public affairs at Environics Research Group, said Monday from his Toronto office.

"Among decided voters, you have the Progressive Conservatives with a razor-thin lead over the NDP."

The online poll was conducted between Sept. 20 and 26 by Environics Research Group and provided exclusively to The Canadian Press on Monday.

While the overall number favours the Tories, the NDP scored well in other areas.

Twenty-nine per cent of all respondents were undecided. Among those, 27 per cent were leaning toward the NDP, while 24 per cent were leaning toward the Tories.

When asked who would make the best premier, 33 per cent of respondents sided with the incumbent premier, Greg Selinger, while 29 per cent backed Tory Hugh McFadyen.

Selinger also had the highest approval rating. Fifty-four per cent of respondents gave the thumbs-up to Selinger's performance to date. McFadyen scored 44 per cent, while Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard garnered 30 per cent.

Selinger's strong numbers on that front suggest some voters who are leaning to the Opposition could switch before election day, Leebosh said.

"It suggests that the Conservatives may have hit their ceiling, whereas the NDP may still have a bit of growth potential in the final week of the campaign."

Selinger, who had not seen the poll results Monday, said he puts little stock in surveys.

"I am a real skeptic about polls. People's views can change quickly. If a poll is too good, there is the danger of complacency. If a poll is bad, there is the danger of discouragement."

Unlike traditional telephone polling, in which respondents are randomly selected, the Environics survey was conducted online among 1,000 respondents, all of whom were chosen from a larger pool of people who were recruited and compensated for participating. Environics then adjusts the sample to reflect a broad spectrum of the population.

The non-random nature of online polling makes it impossible to determine statistically how accurately the results reflect the opinions of the population at large.

Other polls and analysts have long suggested this will be the closest provincial election in more than a decade. It is the first campaign for Selinger, a former finance minister who took over from former premier Gary Doer in 2009.

Doer scored three consecutive, solid majorities in 1999, 2003 and 2007, based largely on his personal popularity. He won over longtime Tory constituencies each time.

This time around, Selinger is spending a lot of energy on trying to guard what the NDP has. He has spent a lot of time in south Winnipeg seats where some of his cabinet ministers are being challenged by well-known Tories.

Selinger has also spent most of his rural campaign time shoring up NDP seats. He has made repeated trips to Gimli, the Interlake, Dauphin and Swan River — all won last time by New Democrats.

Selinger has touted the province's steady economy, shorter health care waiting lists and the return of the National Hockey League to Winnipeg as signs the NDP have followed the right path.

The Tories and Liberals have focused on crime, saying the NDP has failed to have the province shed its reputation as the murder capital of Canada. The Opposition has also criticized the government's finances. The NDP is in the midst of five years of planned deficits.

If the Tories are to unseat the NDP, they need to pick up 10 seats.

In 2007, the NDP won 36 of the 57 legislature seats, while the Tories won 19 and the Liberals took two.

The Liberals have seen their support slip slightly in each of the last three elections, and there are some doubts, even within the party, as to whether Gerrard can hold on to his seat.

"Time for MB Liberals and their supporters to step up to the plate, especially if we don't want to see ourselves wiped off the political map," Harry Wolbert, a Liberal candidate in the St. Vital constituency, wrote on Twitter Monday.

— With files from Chinta Puxley