OTTAWA - A new poll suggests the tide has turned on the NDP's orange wave in Quebec.
The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey indicates the NDP's support in the province has plunged to 26 per cent — tied with the Bloc Quebecois and down 16 points since the NDP swept 59 of Quebec's 75 seats in last May's election.
This marks the first time since May that New Democrats have not held a distinct lead in the province in a Harris-Decima survey.
The poll suggests the NDP has bled support in four different directions; the Bloc, Liberals, Conservatives and Greens have all made modest gains since May.
Nationally, the poll puts the Conservatives at 34 per cent, the NDP at 28, the Liberals at 22 and the Greens at seven.
The telephone survey of 2,005 respondents was conducted Dec. 1-12 and is considered accurate to within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times in 20. The margin of error for Quebec results is higher at 4.4 percentage points.
It was the NDP's unprecedented surge in Quebec last May that vaulted the party into official Opposition status for the first time in its 50-year history. Prior to that, the party had held one seat at most in the province.
New Democrats' dreams of actually taking power in the next election hinge on being able to hold onto the party's newfound base in Quebec. The poll suggests that could be a huge challenge.
"This really is the NDP in free fall in Quebec," said Harris-Decima chairman Allan Gregg.
While the NDP has gone down, other parties have gone up. The Bloc is up three points since May to 26 per cent in the province, the Liberals are up six points to 20 per cent, the Tories up just over one point to 17 per cent and the Greens up five points to seven per cent.
Gregg noted that the NDP has been in a downward spiral in Quebec since early October, after peaking in the aftermath of leader Jack Layton's death in late August. Layton was a particularly popular figure in Quebec, where many Quebecers acknowledged voting for "le bon Jack," rather than for his party.
But Gregg said the downward trend has accelerated in the last few weeks, even as the leadership race to choose Layton's successor has heated up with the first two all-candidates' debates. The veteran pollster said he can't recall a party ever losing so much ground during a leadership contest.
"Conventional wisdom is that leadership contests help the party that's holding them, that the more candidates, the bigger the help."
There are nine candidates vying to fill Layton's shoes and Gregg predicted the race will become more focused on which contender can best hang onto the party's gains in Quebec.
"It puts the future of the NDP in the province of Quebec front and centre in the leadership race," he said. "It raises the stakes in the leadership, it really does."
Still, Gregg cautioned against "hyperventilating" over the shifting political landscape or trying to predict long-term trends from the current results, particularly in Quebec where voter attachment to political parties appears to be at an all-time low.
"It demonstrates a measure of volatility that makes predicting anything with certainty going into the future virtually impossible."