Game changer

The last time the Liberal Party of Canada was more popular than the Bloc Québécois in Quebec, the Liberal leader looked like this:

So now that it’s happening again, I don’t think Michael Ignatieff has to worry too much about his eyebrows. This is the monthly big-sample Quebec-only CROP poll, the one that was pitiless (and accurately so) in chronicling Stéphane Dion’s failure to rise in his home province. Today it shows the Liberals up 7 points from a month ago, the Bloc down 4, the Conservatives down 3, the NDP flat on the floor. Which leaves the numbers at 37% Liberal, 31% Bloc, 15% Conservative, 12% NDP.

With about that share of the popular vote, the Liberals won 26 Quebec seats in 1997 (against a stronger Bloc and weaker third and fourth parties). Note that, if repeated, this would represent a pickup of 12 seats for the Liberals over their result last October: a handy reminder of how shattered they were that night, and how far back they have to go. Give them a dozen new seats in Quebec, a dozen in Ontario and a dozen in the rest of the country and they still would have fewer seats than Paul Martin managed to salvage in the 2004 election. Note that the title of this post says “game changer,” not “game over.”

For the Liberals, good news and bad: their new strength is in the part of the country where nobody will listen to a Conservative attack. But it also reveals dangerous weakness in the election readiness of the two other parties the Liberals will need to cooperate if they are to bring the Harper government down. Ignatieff has answered one question: Can he show any strength with the electorate? Now we’ll see the answer to a second: can he keep it?

INSTANT UPDATE/ CORRECTION: Actually, the last time the Liberals were more popular than the Bloc in Quebec, the leader looked like Paul Martin (it was February, 2004, just before the release of the sponsorship audit went so well). But I like the picture up above, so I’m going to keep it.

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