The federal Conservatives got the budget boost they were hoping for, putting them on the cusp of a majority if an election were to be held today, latest poll numbers suggest.

Taken between March 20 and 21 following Monday's budget address, the Strategic Counsel survey for CTV News and The Globe and Mail asked: How would Canadians vote today?

  • 39 per cent said they would vote for a Conservative candidate.
  • 31 per cent chose Liberal.

That puts the Conservatives three percentage-points higher compared with pre-budget polling numbers, while their lead over the static Liberals stretched from five to eight percentage points over that period.

Numbers for the NDP (13% from 15%), Bloc Quebecois (8% from 9%) and the Green Party (9% from 10%) were all down slightly compared to the last Strategic Counsel poll, taken one week before the budget was unveiled.

Pollster Allan Gregg says the Conservative Party's steadily-improving fortunes seem to be a reflection of its "steady, balanced approach to new initiatives."

"There's been a steady increase in Conservative support in this entire calendar year -- an eight-point climb from 31 per cent in January to 39 per cent now. And for the first time really since the summer of 2006 they are tied in Ontario with the Liberals" at 40 per cent, Gregg told

Former Conservative MP John Reynolds, one of the prime minister's closest confidantes and the man who will run the Tory's next election campaign, was buoyed by the positive reaction to the budget.

"I like winning -- and we're going to win a majority government," he told CTV News.

According to the survey, the driving force behind the rising Tory fortunes is that the budget seems to have won over the most important voting block in the country: middle class voters.

And Gregg said while Tory weak spots from the 2006 campaign continue to persist today -- for instance, Conservatives still trail in support among immigrants and female voters -- they are starting to make inroads in those and other significant areas.

"For the first time we have them ahead among young people," said Gregg, "and they have a significant lead in a key battleground: non-metropolitan cities (with a population of less than one million people)."


The one "black cloud" hovering over the Tories, said Gregg, is the attention drawn to the $2.3 billion the budget directs toward Quebec under the revamped equalization program.

Harper on Wednesday took to the B.C. airwaves to defend allegations his government used billions in tax dollars to buy Quebec votes.

The budget has been widely panned in B.C., with provincial ministers decrying the lack of funding for programs, including the battle against the pine-beetle infestation.

But while poll numbers show the majority (55 per cent) of Canadians thought Quebec benefited most from the transfer of funds under equalization, a majority of Quebecers (51 per cent) believe they received less than their fair share.

Gregg said this doesn't mean Harper has lost momentum in Quebec, pointing to the steady erosion of Bloc Quebecois support which fell 13 points -- from 46 per cent in January to 33 per cent today.

"We've never had the BQ at 33 per cent, and Harper knows this," said Gregg. "He knows that the lower the BQ vote is, the larger is the pool of soft federalist vote -- and the larger that gets, the more chance he has of consolidating it."

Law and order

The Liberals meanwhile, who are stalled at 31 per cent support among Canadians, seem convinced Harper intends to trigger a spring election -- using law and order as a pretext.

"Their next strategy, we know what it is," said Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, who has been levelled repeatedly by Tories with accusations of being soft on crime.

"It will be to try to come (up) with a crime bill that we cannot accept and to pretend we are soft on crime."

The Conservatives have already used procedural tricks to thwart a Liberal offer to fast-track four of the government's anti-crime bills through Parliament all the way to the Senate.

While the Conservatives argued the Liberal motion flies in the face of parliamentary procedure, the Liberals said the Tories have shown they're only interested in playing politics without being genuinely committed to their law-and-order agenda.

"It's cynical. It's shameful. I think Prime Minister Harper should hang his head in shame," Liberal justice critic Marlene Jennings told CTV.

The NDP, meanwhile, said it also smells an election in the wind.

"The people of Canada, I think, are starting to almost accept there will be an early election," New Democrat MP Peter Stoffer told CTV. "So I think they may just try and really roll the dice and go for it."

While the poll shows Harper's Tories are closer than they ever have been to a majority, Gregg said he believes the prime minister is unlikely to precipitate an election unduly. "But if one came, he would welcome it."

Technical notes

  • Results are based on tracking among a proportionate national sample of Canadians 18 years of age or older.
  • Interviews were conducted between March 20 and 21, 2007.
  • The national sample size is 1,000. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
  • The Quebec sample is 247. The margin of error is plus or minus 6.3 percentage points.
  • The Ontario sample is 379. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.

With a report from CTV's Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife