12/16/2011 06:39 EST | Updated 12/16/2011 07:32 EST

NDP In Quebec: Polls Show Support Has Collapsed Without Jack Layton


With an election years away, polls provide a reflection of what Canadians are thinking but have little bearing on what happens in the House of Commons. Unlike the seven years that preceded the May federal election, the country is not on the brink of a new election with every passing season.

But even with the next vote far beyond the horizon, a poll can have a real impact on the political landscape.

Earlier this week, Harris-Decima released a new federal poll indicating that although the gap between the Conservatives and the New Democrats has shrunk to only six points nationally, the NDP has tumbled in Quebec, home to more than half of their MPs. Some NDP supporters have tried to highlight the narrowing gap between the two parties, but the fact that the NDP is shedding support at a slower pace than the Tories is not much of a silver lining.

Similarl to the Nanos poll that put the Liberals a whisker ahead of the New Democrats, this poll puts the NDP and the Bloc Québécois neck-and-neck in the all-important francophone province. That can only drag on the confidence of the party in the midst of its leadership race. In addition to finding a leader that can fight off the Liberals in English Canada, the NDP members need to take into consideration the very real possibility that their party could be overtaken in Quebec less than a year after their sweeping victory.

Harris-Decima has the party tumbling10 points to 26 per cent since their last poll conducted a little over a month ago, while five other recent polls have shown the party slipping to between 38 and 36 per cent support. Harris-Decima’s survey, however, was taken after all of these and so it could be capturing a continuing slide for the New Democrats.

This has benefited the Bloc Québécois, which has polled above its May performance in four polls taken in the last month. The latest survey, conducted over two weeks ending December 12, could not have captured much of the reaction stemming from Daniel Paillé’s December 11th leadership victory. How the Bloc’s numbers will look after the holidays may be a better indication of where they stand.

The Liberals, too, appear to be taking advantage of the NDP’s woes. At 20 per cent in Quebec, the party is polling much higher than in other recent surveys. If these numbers repeat themselves in the next election the Liberals would be in good position to double or even triple their current haul of Quebec seats. The New Democrats, meanwhile, would shed roughly two-thirds of theirs.

"The reality is that people didn’t vote for the NDP, people voted for Jack Layton, Liberal MP Denis Coderre told The Globe and Mail.

But it's not all doom and gloom for the New Democrats. In the context of the government’s actions against the Canadian Wheat Board the gap between the Conservatives and the NDP in Saskatchewan and Manitoba has shrunk from 26 points on election night to only 13 in the Harris-Decima poll. Other recent surveys have also suggested the race in the Prairies could be far closer in the next election than it has been for some time.

However, what this and other recent polls show is that the NDP leadership race today is not the same race it was in September. While the potential to become PM-in-waiting is still there, the next leader of the New Democrats will have a tough fight on his or her hands.

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

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