OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s opposition New Democrats, once the fourth-largest party in the House of Commons, have now surged ahead of the governing Conservatives to take a lead in public opinion, a new poll shows.
The left-leaning New Democratic Party got a bump from the election of its new leader, Thomas Mulcair, in March and now stand at 34 percent, with the Conservatives at 30 percent.
That’s a reversal of fortunes from the federal election last May, which reelected the Conservatives with a majority mandate with 39.6 percent of the vote. The New Democrats took 30.6 percent.
The Liberals, who governed Canada for the majority of its history, are far behind at 20 percent, just marginally ahead of the result they got in the election. The Liberals are finding themselves squeezed from the left by the New Democrats and from the right by the Conservatives.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made a number of controversial moves at the start of his majority government mandate, measures which he considers important and transformational but which have stirred up opposition.
Among these are a range of spending cuts which have generated months of negative headlines, as well as a decision to raise gradually the age for drawing old-age benefits. The strategy appears to get any bad news out of the way early in a mandate.
Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall, reacting to the Harris Decima numbers, said in an email to Reuters: “No comment on polls. There won’t be an election for three-plus years!”
The Conservatives have also lost marks for allegations of dirty tricks in the last election, where in at least one district a large number of calls directed non-Conservatives to the wrong voting station. The Conservatives say the incident was the result of one rogue campaign worker but the opposition says it was more widespread.
The New Democrats propose more social and environmental spending, funded at least in part by higher corporate and personal income taxes and by making oil producers pay for their carbon emissions.
Harris Decima pollster Doug Anderson said the New Democratic gains were real but the party and its leader were still relatively unknown and therefore had the potential for erosion in support, depending on how politics played out.
“If there’s any number in there that’s soft, it’s the NDP number,” he said.
A weighted average of 11 polls taken in April puts the New Democrats ahead by a hair, 33.3 percent to the Conservatives’ 33.2 percent. The compilation, released on Wednesday, was done by Eric Grenier, who studies polls at ThreeHundredEight.com. The combined polls surveyed 15,175 people.
Harris Decima, released late Wednesday, polled 2,018 people by phone -- those with land lines -- between April 26 and May 6, a sample size that carries an error margin of 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Reporting by Randall Palmer