As voters in two Manitoba ridings wait for an impending byelection call, a new poll shows the Liberals have made significant gains in the province and have supplanted New Democrats as the main alternative to Stephen Harper.
The poll by Winnipeg-based Probe Research for The Winnipeg Free Press, which surveyed 1,002 people in late September, still gave Conservatives the lead in the province, with 42 per cent to 32 per cent for the Liberals. But that represents a dramatic shift since the 2011 election: a drop of 11 points for the Tories and a gain of 15 for the Liberals, giving Grits their best numbers since the 2004 election when they won three of the province's 14 seats. They currently hold only one.
The New Democrats placed third with 22 per cent, a drop of four points since the last election, while the Greens held steady with four per cent support.
The poll shows Liberals trailing the Conservatives by only two points in Winnipeg. Outside of the provincial capital, where two byelections in Brandon-Souris and Provencher will be held, the Conservatives had a 22-point lead. Even so, that is radically different from the last election when the Liberals took just seven per cent of the vote. The poll now gives them 28 per cent in the region.
While that bodes well for a good Liberal showing in the byelections, it is probably still not enough to swing either of them over to Justin Trudeau's party. Provencher is an especially safe seat for the Conservatives. Vic Toews had won the riding with 63 per cent or more of the vote in every election since 2004. Though the Liberals did hold the riding in the 1990s against a divided right, Provencher does not have the same buzz surrounding it as the contest in Brandon-Souris.
On paper, Brandon-Souris should be just as easy of a Tory hold as Provencher. Merv Tweed increased his share of the vote in every election since 2004, beginning with 52 per cent and ending with 64 per cent in 2011. The Liberals, meanwhile, plummeted over that time from 24 per cent in 2004 to just five per cent in the last vote. And the NDP has placed second in the riding in the last three outings.
But Brandon-Souris has become a very unusual byelection. Two Conservative candidates were disqualified, the unflattering details having been widely covered in the local media, paving the way for Manitoba PC MLA Larry Maguire to claim the nomination. One of those Tory candidates then tried his luck for the Liberal nod, losing to Rolf Dinsdale in a well-attended nomination vote this week.
Both Dinsdale and Maguire have some history in the riding. While Maguire is already a local MLA, he was also the PC candidate in the 1993 federal election in Brandon-Souris. That was the last, and only, time the Liberals took the riding. The Dinsdale family, meanwhile, has deep roots in Brandon: Dinsdale's father was a long-time Tory MP and his grandfather was mayor.
Whether that is enough to flip the riding from blue to red is doubtful, and the NDP's candidate (welder Cory Szczepanski) should still be expected to retain a good portion of the vote. The New Democrats have consistently taken at least one-fifth of ballots cast in the riding over the last 10 years.
But a strong performance by the Liberals in a rural, western riding could be a worrying omen for the prime minister.
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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