Jack-mania unlikely to lead to NDP seats

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The Gazette, Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jack-mania is sweeping Quebec.

A Léger Marketing poll for Quebecor Media shows 24-per-cent support for the NDP, a nine-point increase from two weeks ago, while the Bloc Québécois has slumped to 34 per cent, a five-point decline.

Meanwhile, the Liberals and the Conservatives are stable at 20 per cent. The only thing that's happened in the campaign since the previous poll is the leaders' debates, where NDP leader Jack Layton was the clear winner in English, and held his own in French.

Asked which leader they had the most confidence in, 37 per cent of Quebecers chose Layton, to 27 per cent for Gilles Duceppe, 13 per cent for Stephen Harper and 9 per cent for Michael Ignatieff.

Well, Duceppe has definitely been around too long, and Bloc fatigue is a factor in this election. As for Layton, he's definitely un gars sympathique who runs well ahead of his party.

Two other polls confirm the NDP surge in Quebec: Angus Reid has the party at 26 per cent, and the daily Nanos tracking puts it at 23 per cent. All agree the NDP have moved into second place, taking votes primarily from the Bloc.

But the question arises as to whether this is sustainable or whether these votes are parked with Layton. Then the question is whether the NDP has the means to turn these votes out on election day.

Finally there's the question of whether the NDP vote is efficient. And the answer, with a few exceptions such as Outremont, is no.

The NDP could well take 20 per cent of the Quebec vote on election day and still win only one seat - Outremont, where Tom Mulcair is running 20 points ahead of former Liberal cabinet minister Martin Cauchon. For the rest, while the New Democrats have hopes for two seats in the Outaouais, their vote is spread very thin. And they have no ground game to get it out.

The Conservatives, at 20 per cent of the vote in Quebec, would hold onto most if not all of their 11 seats here. That's because their vote, concentrated in the 418 area region of Quebec City and eastern Quebec, is highly efficient.

Of the 21 seats in 418, the Conservatives hold nine, while the Bloc has the rest. The Liberals are barely in double digits in this region.

A CROP poll of three Quebec City ridings for Le Soleil and La Presse makes this point. In Beauport-Limoilou, Conservative incumbent Sylvie Boucher is at 35 per cent, Bloc candidate Michel Letourneau is at 32 per cent, and NDP candidate Raymond Côté is at 20 per cent. It's a very close race, but every vote the NDP takes from the Bloc is one less the Conservatives need to win.

For the Liberals at 20 per cent, it's very difficult to see them below 10 or 12 seats.

A look at Stephen Harper's tour plan over the first four weeks of the campaign tells you a lot about where he'll be in the fifth. Tuesday he was in Thunder Bay, Ont., and Val d'Or (where there's a threeway race with the Bloc and NDP), ahead of an evening rally in Rivière du Loup.

The local candidate, Bernard Géneréux, took the seat from the Bloc in a 2009 byelection and is favoured to win again.

Two other Conservative incumbents on the South Shore, Maxime Bernier in the Beauce and Steven Blaney in Levis, are considered a lock.

Blaney had a meeting Sunday where he was endorsed by Mario Roy, organizer of the campaign to bring the Nordiques back to Quebec. Which tells you that federal funding for an arena is no longer an issue, partly because Harper went to Quebec City himself to make the announcement of no money for hockey rinks, and partly because he dropped off $50 million for improvement to Quebec's airport.

Also endorsing Blaney were the local Liberal member of the legislature, Gilles Lehouillier, and Clément Gignac, minister for economic development in Jean Charest's cabinet.

Which tells you everything you need to know about which party the Quebec Liberals are supporting in eastern Quebec.

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