Quebec polls should ring alarm bells for federal Liberals

One survey even has the Tories beating the Liberals among anglos

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Gazette, Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Quebec's two leading pollsters, CROP and Leger, have been doing extensive surveying over the last two weeks on the budget impasse in Quebec. Somewhat lost as a sidebar is their simultaneous fieldwork on federal voting intention and leadership in Quebec.

The good news for Stephane Dion and the Liberals is that hardly anyone noticed. The bad news for them is that the federal Liberals are languishing in a distant third place behind the Bloc Quebecois and the Conservatives, and that Dion's leadership numbers are completely in the tank.

A Leger survey in Le Devoir last Tuesday had the Bloc at 36 per cent, the Conservatives at 28 per cent, while the Liberals were at 17 per cent, only four points ahead of the NDP at 13 per cent.

Among francophone voters, who determine the outcome of 50 ridings outside the Montreal region, the Liberals dropped to 13 per cent, trailing the NDP at 14 per cent, while the Bloc was at 40 per cent and the Conservatives at 26 per cent. This means the Liberals wouldn't even be competitive in any of those 50 seats, except perhaps in the Gatineau and the Eastern Townships.

Interestingly, the Conservatives led the Liberals by 35 to 31 per cent among non-francophones, obviously including anglophone voters in the Liberal fortress of the West Island. This is a stunning development, and ought to be ringing major alarm bells in the Liberal Party. The Conservatives ahead, or even competitive, on the West Island? Who knew? This means if the Conservatives can recruit some star candidates on the West Island, they will actually be in the game.

A CROP poll in La Presse last Wednesday had the Bloc and Conservatives tied at 28 per cent, with the Liberals at 20 per cent, followed by the NDP at 15 per cent.

Among francophones, CROP had the Bloc at 33 per cent, the Conservatives at 29 per cent, and the Liberals at 13 per cent, again, not even in the race outside Montreal.

For example, the Conservatives would sweep the Quebec City region with 44 per cent of the votes, against 24 per cent for the Bloc, 15 per cent for the Liberals and 12 per cent for the NDP. This means a blue wave from Quebec City all the way to the Gaspe.

Leger had another poll on Monday of this week, this time for Le Journal de Montreal, reporting a slight improvement for the Liberals over the previous week, with the Bloc at 35 per cent, the Conservatives at 29 per cent, the Liberals at 20 per cent and the NDP at 12 per cent. The downside of the upside is that the Liberals are still in the teens among francophone voters, and only the non-francophone vote enables them to hit 20 per cent.

As for Dion, his leadership numbers were captured in Le Journal's banner headline: "Dion en chute libre." (Dion in free fall.) Asked who would make the best prime minister, 36 per cent of Quebecers replied Stephen Harper, 16 per cent said Gilles Duceppe, 16 per cent said Jack Layton, while only 12 per cent chose Dion. (Nationally, the numbers were no better for Dion, who scored 13 per cent to Harper's 34 per cent as best PM).

The previous week for Le Devoir, Leger asked another version of the leadership question: "Which leader most deserves your confidence?" Duceppe nearly doubled his score to 30 per cent (since he's never going to be prime minister people don't see him as one), with Harper at 28 per cent, Layton at 16 per cent, and Dion at 13 per cent.

The point is, it doesn't matter how you ask the question, Dion is mired in the teens. And this, as the leader of a national party that is to Canadian politics as McDonald's is to fast food - the dominant brand in the space.

Furthermore, this is not a leader who has been in office for a decade, as Brian Mulroney was, and spent his political capital down to the teens. This is a leader who has been on the scene for only six months, and whom Canadians barely know.

With English-speaking Canadians, the problem is largely that they can't understand Dion in English. But that hardly explains his problem in French. He had a quick favourite-son bounce in Quebec after the Liberal convention last December, but that has all dissipated.

It can't be just because of the Conservatives' negative ads on Dion. There must be more to it that that. Whatever it is, the Liberals and Dion better spend the summer trying to figure it out.

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