With new details emerging about the PMO's involvement in the Duffy-Wright affair, any hope Conservatives had that a RCMP investigation would take the story out of the headlines have been dashed.
And a new poll suggests that as bad as things already looked before the latest news, they could get much worse.
The survey by Ipsos-Reid for CTV was conducted at the end of June, before the revelations from the RCMP investigation came to light. Those new details have put into doubt the narrative of Nigel Wright acting alone in his reimbursement of Senator Mike Duffy's ineligible expense claims and have blown holes in the prime minister's version of events.
Even so, only 30 per cent of Canadians polled by Ipsos-Reid said they approved of the way Stephen Harper has handled the scandal, compared to 70 per cent who disapproved. As Darrell Bricker of Ipsos-Reid points out, no party can win an election with 30 per cent support.
More worryingly for the prime minister is that only 6 per cent strongly approved of how this has been managed, while 41 per cent strongly disapproved — including 10 per cent of Conservative voters. Add the 28 per cent who said they somewhat disapproved, and you have more than 1-in-3 Tory supporters (a group whose ranks have already been whittled down) not exactly enamoured with Harper's handling of the issue.
But, again, these sorry numbers were from a poll taken before the recent news emerged. And with the prime minister sticking with his story, there does not seem to be any chance his approval ratings on the scandal are going to go anywhere but down. Even if Harper was kept out of the loop, allegations the party was considering using taxpayer-subsidized funds to repay Duffy's bill cannot help but tarnish the image of the Conservative Party in the eyes of Canadians — not to mention the eyes of their donors.
Up to now, it had appeared that the Duffy-Wright affair had done all the damage it was going to do to the Tories' poll numbers. The party had sunk to 30 per cent or a little less, but had stabilized at that level. Whether that is their absolute floor will be determined in the coming weeks, when the fallout from the latest news has its effect on public opinion. A silver lining for the Conservatives, however, is that Canadians may have tuned out for the summer. The impending cabinet shuffle may be an opportunity to change the channel, but that potential has been (and always is) blown out of proportion — how many Canadians can name more than one or two cabinet ministers anyway?
It should be remembered, however, that despite Harper managing only 30 per cent approval on this issue, the prime minister managed 41 per cent approval overall in the same poll. This would suggest that while many Canadians are wholly unimpressed with Harper's performance on this particular question it has not pulled down his personal numbers dramatically. But again, this was before the latest revelations.
At some point, Harper might lose the benefit of the doubt.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.
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