The 2019 federal election appears to be the Liberals‘ to lose, and it’s likely going to take an ill-timed stumble from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to open the window for the Conservatives, who still lurk within striking distance.
That’s the main takeaway of an Ipsos poll of 2,000 Canadians, conducted between Dec. 7 and Dec. 12, that also hinted that Trudeau is aided by Canadians’ low degree of familiarity with his rivals, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
Asked who they would vote for if a federal election were held tomorrow, 38 per cent of respondents chose the Liberals while 33 per cent went for the Conservatives.
The Liberals also came out on top as the party most Canadians said is best-equipped to deal with healthcare, climate change, poverty, unemployment and housing — five of the top eight issues that respondents said will determine how they vote in 2019.
Two of the other issues that are top of mind, immigration and the economy, are best left to the Conservatives, per respondents’ consensus.
No party was able to claim a clear lead on taxes.
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“When you take a look at the numbers right now, we have the Liberals with a five-point lead over the Conservatives and they’re leading in all the places they need to lead,” said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs.
“They’re leading in the big-seat regions. They’re leading in Quebec by a fair amount, leading by six points in the province of Ontario, they’re even leading in the 905 [the seat-heavy region surrounding Toronto].”
Indeed, 40 per cent of Quebecers said they’d vote for the Liberals, compared to only 21 per cent who said they’d vote Conservative.
Ontarians’ approval of the Trudeau Liberals wasn’t as strong, however, with 39 per cent saying they’d vote red compared to 33 per cent who’d vote blue.
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Meanwhile, the federal NDP’s support over the course of the year resembles an orange playground slide, dropping from 23 per cent in March to 21 per cent in July down to 18 per cent in the latest polling.
But despite their tumbling approval, Bricker says Singh’s figures still stack up well alongside most of his predecessors.
“As bad as that sounds — the fact that they’re in steady decline — the truth is that 18 per cent, if they actually got that in the federal election, would be their second-best performance in history” — second only to the Jack Layton-led NDP’s showing of 30 per cent in 2011.
If the NDP were to inch up from 18 per cent to 21 or 22 per cent, that would represent a major headache for the Liberals, Bricker said.
“The reason why that’s a serious problem for the Liberal Party is that where [the New Democrats] tend to get their support is in Ontario, where they are the official opposition provincially, and in British Columbia, where they are the government right now.”
Sure enough, Ontario and B.C. were the provinces that expressed the highest support for the federal NDP, with 22 per cent and 18 per cent approval respectively
“If [the NDP] could move their level up a little bit, what happens is that progressive vote that needs to unite behind Justin Trudeau has two choices,” Bricker said.
“And if they have two choices and the Conservatives basically still — in spite of Maxime Bernier, in our polling at least — will only have one [choice], a united Conservative Party beats a divided progressive Liberal Party.”
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In fact, the Scheer Conservatives are on course to collect 21 per cent of the vote from Bernier’s home province of Quebec, which Bricker points out is more than what they picked up in the last federal election.
He also poured cold water on the view, held by some commentators outside Quebec, that there’s an army of progressive voters in Quebec waiting to switch to the Liberal Party.
“If they were going to do that, they would have done it in 2015,” Bricker said.
What is easy to understand, however, is that Alberta belongs to the Conservatives, with 61 per cent of Albertans backing the Tories compared to only 19 per cent for the Grits.
The Conservatives also enjoy a sizable lead in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“What we’re getting back into under the Liberals is a situation that looks more like the 1980s and 1990s where western Canada — the prairie provinces plus Alberta — are really defining themselves against the national government,” said Bricker.
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Alberta’s quarrels with the federal government over aid for its oil and gas industry, coupled with the fact that Albertans will go to the provincial polls in May 2019, mean that Alberta-Ottawa tensions are set to be projected even more strongly over the next six months, Bricker added.
“You’re going to see momentum around these questions as both the [Alberta] NDP and the United Conservative Party are really going to pivot against the federal government in Ottawa.
“That regional tension that we used to experience a lot more back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s has re-emerged in Canadian politics. Right now, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta are really, really difficult for the federal Liberal Party, in fact more difficult for them than Quebec was for Stephen Harper.”
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The big picture, however, remains that while there are concerns over Trudeau’s leadership, they don’t appear to be strong enough at present to suggest that the incumbents won’t retain power in 2019.
Just less than half of Canadians (49 per cent) said they believe the Trudeau government is working well for Canada, but the same proportion also said they believe the Liberals will be re-elected.
Assessments of the Trudeau government’s performance — and its management of the economy specifically — have barely shifted from last year, and both remain around the 51 per cent mark where they stood last year.
Trudeau’s overall approval rating hovers around 51 per cent, where it was this time last year.
Most strikingly, when respondents were asked to ascribe 16 traits to either Trudeau, Scheer, Singh or “none of the above,” Trudeau came out on top above his Conservative and NDP rivals on all 16.
These include 14 positive traits such as “Someone who is best to deal with President Donald Trump,” “Someone who will best lead Canada on the world stage” and “Someone you’d have a beer or a coffee with” and two negative ones, namely “Someone who wants to impose his values on others” and “Someone who’s willing to divide Canadians for political advantage.”
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In sum, while the Liberals’ advantage heading into election year isn’t gigantic, it’s wide enough that they likely only need to avoid some form of self-sabotage or a major blunder to secure victory in October 2019.
“What it looks like going into this stage of the game is that the Liberals are not in a position where they’re going to beat themselves,” Bricker said. “The Conservatives are going to have to beat them, and they’ve got a lot of work to do.”
These are the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted on exclusively for Global News A sample of 2,001 Canadians aged 18+ was sampled via the Ipsos I-Say panel and non-panel sources from Dec. 7 to 12, 2018. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample reflects that of the Canadian population by region, age and gender according to Canadian census information. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case the results of the poll are considered accurate to within +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what the results would be had all Canadian adults been polled.
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.