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Polls are little more than crystal balls in the leadup to May 2

May, 2011

Writing about a federal election a few days before the poll is as risky as Rollerblading on the autoroute, especially in this election, where the polls have been all over the map.

Not only that. The Quebec polls have the parties so topsy-turvy that it’s hard to give them much credence.

Perhaps we should not be surprised that an election that started in such a muddle was ending in a muddle. This was the election that nobody wanted. Conservative leader Stephen Harper didn’t want it because he wasn’t sure he could get a majority, and a majority is all he has ever wanted. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff didn’t want an election because his brain trust told him the party wasn’t ready.

Despite his positive attitude in public, NDP leader Jack Layton didn’t fancy an election so soon, as he was recovering from cancer and a hip injury. Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe’s team told him the Bloc’s polls were beginning to trend down and Duceppe wanted more time to fix them.

Then events (“Events, dear boy, events,” as British prime minister Harold MacMillan once called them) took over in Ottawa. Conservative MP Bev Oda lied to Parliament; Speaker Peter Milliken told Harper he was in contempt of Parliament; finally, the opposition parties ganged up and voted Harper out of office.

Harper visited the governor-general, the writ was dropped and we were off to the races. Harper stood his ground and argued that Canada has the best economy in the world – which, in many ways, it has. In the early days, Ignatieff got good notices. He said Liberals had better things to do with money than to give it to corporations in the form of tax cuts. Layton kept chirping away about the NDP’s social safety network and that more voters, especially in Quebec, liked his message. Duceppe went back to his old mantra about the Bloc looking after Quebec’s interests. It was beginning to sound tired.

Then came the debates. No game-changer there. No one threw a knockout punch. No one fell flat on his face. I expect the winner on points was Jack Layton, not only for his policies but also for his optimism. Four million sets of eyeballs watched the English debate, but the question remains: To what extent are Canadians really engaged in this campaign?

There is a little non-scientific evidence that I can throw in the pot here. On my blog, where much of the material is political, Canadian and American, an astonishing phenomenon emerged: During the campaign, there has been much greater response to my American political posts than to my Canadian ones.

There is one issue I’ve blogged about that I’ve never seen discussed elsewhere. The “birthers” in the U.S. don’t believe President Barack Obama was born there and say he’s not a real American. Our Conservative Party has spent millions to prove that Ignatieff is not a real Canadian, saying he has spent too much time in other countries and foreign universities and does not understand Canada from the grass roots up. This shows that parties on both sides of the border have their share of nutters.

As I write this, a few days remain. The polls have been showing a strong resurgence for the NDP. But the question here is whether this growing popularity can be translated into winning seats. To do so, the NDP vote must be concentrated enough to win more ridings.

An Ipsos Reid poll showed the NDP at 25 per cent and the Liberals at 21 per cent, the first time in 20 years the NDP has been ahead of the Liberals in the polls. These numbers have been translated into seats, giving the Liberals 53 and the NDP 48. This will probably give the NDP at least two seats in Quebec—Outremont and Gatineau.

The poll shows the Bloc running in second place in Quebec, at 27 per cent, slightly behind the NDP. According to the number crunchers, this would give the Bloc only four seats in Quebec. And the Conservatives are leading the poll with 43 per cent, enough to win 201 seats, a solid majority. Harper is so happy with these results that he is pretty much keeping his mouth shut. Gilles Duceppe was so devastated that on Easter weekend he resurrected Jacques Parizeau.

I would not be surprised if the NDP and the Liberals will come in with about 50 seats each. This will mean Ignatieff’s days as Liberal leader are numbered. (Keep your eyes on Dominic LeBlanc from the Maritimes.) And a triumphant Layton can hand off to Tom Mulcair at a time of his choosing.

As for Harper and Duceppe: The Conservatives will not soar so high and the Bloc will not sink so low as the poll suggests. After losing seats, I doubt Duceppe will want to stick around to lead a seventh campaign for the Bloc.

I expect Harper will win his majority. He will be around a lot longer than many Canadians want.

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