The Bloc is going down

Tories are tied with BQ, and the party threatens Liberals for some city seats

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The Gazette, Friday, November 2, 2007

The Conservatives are now tied with the Bloc Québécois at 31 per cent among Quebecers in a new CROP poll in La Presse. But though the numbers are the same, they are very different in qualitative terms - one is 31 per cent on the way up, and the other is 31 per cent on the way down.

The Conservatives are up six points, and the Bloc down 11 points, from election day. The Conservatives' 25 per cent in the 2006 election got them 10 seats. The Bloc's 42 per cent brought it 52 seats.

CROP's latest numbers, broken into seat projections, would produce very different results. Crossing 30 per cent, and tied with the Bloc overall, the Conservatives are now ahead in most of Quebec outside Montreal, notably the 418 area around Quebec City.

For the minority Conservative government, the road to a majority runs through the rest of Quebec, a crucial battleground of 50 seats outside Montreal. This is now strictly a two-way race between the Conservatives and the Bloc. The Tories and the Liberals have traded places as the competitive federalist party on the ballot. The Liberals, once the beneficiaries of polarization between the federalist and sovereignist camps, are right out of the race. In most regions of the province outside Montreal, the Liberals are running in single digits, as they did in the two off-island by-elections in September.

These poll numbers would produce about 35 seats for the Conservatives, 30 for the Bloc, with the Liberals reduced to about 10 seats, all in the Montreal region and most on the island of Montreal.

The Liberals stand at 17 per cent in the CROP poll, down four points from election day. They have been pushed back into Fortress Montreal, and even here, the barbarians, in the form of the Conservatives, are at the gates.

Drilling down in the CROP figures, the Liberals are at 27 per cent on the island of Montreal, followed by the Conservatives at 25 per cent, and the Bloc at 24 per cent. La Presse does not report a Montreal number for the NDP, but at 14 per cent overall, and usually polling around 5 per cent off the island, they would be in a 20 per cent range in the city, increasingly competitive with the other parties, growing at the expense of the Bloc in the East End, and of the Liberals in the West End and West Island.

If these numbers are to be believed, and CROP is a very reliable brand, then the Conservatives are now moving on to the island of Montreal, and particularly the West Island. Several safe Liberals seats, including Lac St. Louis and Pierrefonds-Dollard, must be considered in play. There is no other way to read these figures.

The last time the Conservatives were competitive on the West Island was when they won two seats in the free-trade election of 1988. (Bob Layton and Gerry Weiner are the answers to those two trivia questions.)

There are a number of reasons for loosening the Liberals' iron grip on the non-francophone vote. For one thing, voters are no longer hostages of polarization. For another, the strongest economy in decades favours the incumbent, and while there might be no love for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, he is perceived as a leader and they are seen as competent.

And then there's the Dion factor. Stéphane Dion is not doing any better with anglophones and allophones than he is with other Quebecers.

Anecdotally, you hear it all over town. It's all about the leader, and none of it is good.

As Dion said himself, in the line of the night at last weekend's Press Gallery Dinner, his problem is that English-Canadians can't understand him, and French Canadians just can't stand him.

There's more truth than humour in that.

And having stood down from an election he would have preferred to force over the Throne Speech, he is now getting whipsawed as the Great Abstainer.

The latest is his flip-flops over the GST cut. On Monday he said he would oppose a GST cut. On Tuesday, he said he wouldn't vote against. On Wednesday, he said that in government he would consider raising it to six per cent again.

Thus, the leader of the party that opposed the introduction of the GST, and promised to abolish it in government, now supports it, opposes its reduction, but refuses to vote against it, and promises to raise it again.

Portrait of a leader in deep, deep trouble.

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