Liberals are sliding everywhere in Quebec - even Montreal

Poll shows them third in the region behind the Tories and the Bloc Québécois

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The Gazette, Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Conservatives have moved to majority territory in one poll of federal voting intention, but remain relegated to minority status in another. Yet the two polls are closely aligned on one thing: The Liberals are in a bad way and wise to avoid an election, as they will today, by abstaining on the Throne Speech.

An Ipsos poll last weekend had the Tories at 40 per cent, with the Liberals at 27 per cent and the New Democrats a bad third at 14 per cent. A UniMarketing poll for La Presse had the Tories stuck on their 2006 election-day number of 36 per cent, with the Liberals all the way down at 25 per cent and the NDP much more competitive at 19 per cent.

What does this mean? It means that while the Conservatives might or might not be knocking on the door of a majority, the Liberals have serious problems, particularly in Quebec.

In the regional breakouts, both polls have the Liberals below 20 per cent in Quebec.

Ipsos has the Bloc Québécois at 36 per cent, the Conservatives at 26 per cent, the Liberals at 19 per cent and the NDP at 12 per cent in Quebec. UniMarketing has the Bloc at 39 per cent, the Conservatives at 25 per cent, with the Liberals and NDP tied at 15 per cent. Yikes!

In both polls, which are well within each other's margin of error, the Liberals are clearly in third place in Quebec. But the UniMarketing numbers are downright scary for the Liberals.

Numbers talk, and these numbers tell a story within a story. There are two Quebecs - Montreal and the ROQ, the Rest of Quebec. And in the UniMarketing poll, the Liberals are in deep trouble in both.

It is no longer news that the Conservatives and Liberals have traded places as the competitive federalist party against the Bloc in the ROQ - a crucial battleground of 50 seats. In the UniMarketing poll, and in others by Quebec pollsters such as Léger and CROP, the Liberals have sunk to single digits in most of the province outside Montreal--the two September byelections off the island confirmed this.

But drilling down into the UniMarketing poll results, the most alarming numbers for the Liberals are in the Montreal region, with the Bloc at 40 per cent, the Conservatives at 21 per cent and the Liberals at 19 per cent. La Presse didn't report a Montreal number for the NDP, but if they are tied with the Liberals at 15 per cent province-wide, and both are in single digits in the ROQ, then they are virtually tied in Montreal. In other words, when the Liberals lost Outremont to the NDP by 20 points, it wasn't necessarily an isolated event, but symptomatic of a larger malaise, largely around the leadership of Stéphane Dion.

That's a chilling prospect for the Liberals - in third place in Fortress Montreal, a bastion so secure that it largely withstood even the Mulroney landslide of 1984, 211 seats across Canada and 58 out of 75 in Quebec.

But at 19 per cent in the Montreal region, even some of the safest anglophone and allophone Liberal bastions are in play. Not St. Laurent, Dion's own seat. Not Westmount-Ville Marie, where Marc Garneau's name recognition alone is enough to save the riding. But the West Island riding of Lac St. Louis, for example, would be competitive if the Tories found a star candidate to run against Liberal incumbent Francis Scarpaleggia.

There's no other way to look at numbers that place the Liberals and Conservatives tied within the margin of error in the Montreal region. All those Conservative votes can't be in area 450 - Laval and the South Shore. Some of them must be in 514 - in Montreal itself, and even on the West Island.

So what's going on in Montreal? Two things. One, depolarization. And two, Dion. Call it D&D.

The Conservative beachhead in 2006, coupled with Mario Dumont's provincial breakthrough in 2007, have resulted in a decline of support for the sovereignty option in both Ottawa and Quebec, to the point that the Parti Québécois no longer even talks of a referendum following an election win. Federally, the Bloc is losing speed everywhere off the island.

Like other federalist Quebecers, anglophones and allophones sense their votes are no longer needed to block the Bloc. The ballot question is no longer a question of country.

So then it comes down to the federalist parties and their leaders. The Liberal brand is strong, but the leader is seen as weak and incompetent. And those are perceptions Dion must change in the months ahead.

Yes, even in Montreal.

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