The Conservatives have an 11-point lead over the Liberals, and only 20 per cent of Canadians would blame the government if the economy entered a recession over the next year, according to a new Strategic Counsel Poll.

When respondents were asked who they would vote for, there was almost no change in support from a month ago (percentage-point change from a Feb. 14-17 poll in brackets):

  • Conservatives: 38 per cent (-1)
  • Liberals: 27 per cent (same)
  • NDP: 14 per cent (+2)
  • Green Party: 12 per cent (same)
  • Bloc Quebecois: 10 per cent (same)

The latest poll, conducted between March 13-16 for CTV and The Globe and Mail, comes amidst increasing concern that Canada may not be prepared for an economic downturn, as the U.S. credit crisis is felt around the world.

The Liberals have hammered away at the Conservatives over the economy, saying the government has failed to prepare a sufficient budgetary surplus to cushion the blow of any slowdown.

But when respondents were asked what the primary reason of a potential recession would be, most pointed to factors outside Canada's borders:

  • Slowdown in the U.S. economy: 50 per cent
  • Slowdown in the global economy: 14 per cent
  • Canadian businesses not being competitive enough: 10 per cent
  • Poor economic management by the Canadian government: 20 per cent

"Keep in mind this is the early days of an economic slowdown. We haven't really felt it," said Tim Woolstencroft of the Strategic Counsel told "In fact, we've seen no real evidence of it: the markets are down but employment is still strong."

But he added, "Down the road, if the government doesn't respond as economic anguish starts to build, history tells us that ultimately the government is held responsible."

Cadman and NAFTA

Monday's poll also comes in the wake of two controversies that the Liberals have repeatedly raised during question period: the Cadman affair, and allegations that the Conservatives influenced the U.S. Democratic race by leaking comments made about NAFTA.

However, neither of those issues appeared to have had any great impact on voters.

When respondents were asked if their views on the Conservative government had been influenced by the Cadman affair, less than one third answered yes:

  • A good deal of influence: 11 per cent
  • Some influence: 21 per cent
  • Total good deal / some influence: 32 per cent
  • Not too much influence: 22 per cent
  • No influence at all: 39 per cent
  • Total not too much / no influence: 61 per cent

Woolstencroft said the issue could begin to sway soft Conservative supporters if the allegations persist, but right now there isn't enough on the public record "to cause damage."

The Liberals have also accused the Conservatives of leaking information about Sen. Barack Obama's views on NAFTA, which suggested he was not entirely serious in his attacks on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Most respondents said those claims did not influence their perception of the Tories:

  • A good deal of influence: 9 per cent
  • Some influence: 18 per cent
  • Total good deal / some influence: 27 per cent
  • Not too much influence: 23 per cent
  • No influence at all: 41 per cent
  • Total not too much / no influence: 64 per cent

"The government needs to show that it's messed up on something before it's going to give the Liberals an opportunity to mobilize public opinion against the government, and the government really hasn't given them that, at this point," said Woolstencroft.

Technical notes

  • The poll was conducted between March 13-16 by The Strategic Counsel for CTV and The Globe and Mail.
  • The national sample size is 1,000 people and the margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
  • Results are based on tracking among a proportionate national sample of Canadians 18 years of age or older.