OTTAWA - A new poll suggests a seismic political shift is underway, with the Conservatives off balance and the Liberals gaining traction in important areas.

On the surface, The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey suggests a dead heat between the two parties, at 32 per cent each. The NDP was at 15 per cent, the Bloc Quebecois at 10, and the Greens at nine.

But Harris-Decima chairman Allan Gregg says the real story lies below the headline numbers.

"What you have on the surface is a dead heat, but if you dig a little deeper, what you see is that the Liberals are clearly making some inroads into key, battleground constituencies."

"They are emerging as the federalist default option to the BQ in the province of Quebec, they are ahead in Ontario for the first time since September."

The Quebec data, over two weeks, show the Bloc with 38 per cent, the Liberals with 28, the Tories well behind at 13, the NDP at 11 and the Greens at eight.

For Ontario, the Liberals were at 40 per cent, with the Tories at 35, the NDP at 14 and the Greens at 10.

Gregg said the Liberals were also making headway in the important 905 area code ridings around Toronto.

"The ridings in the 905 that looked to be clearly in the Conservative win column are once again now competitive... And the Liberals are regaining their historic dominance with female voters -- a kind of bedrock of the constituency they have got to bolt together if they are going to have any chance to win."

All that is a major shift, Gregg said.

The story for 2009 was a slow, even glacial, Tory redrawing of the political map which saw the party gain in the 905 region, among visible minorities and with women. It was plodding progress, but it was moving toward majority territory. Now, in the opening weeks of 2010, many of those gains have vanished.

Gregg lays the blame on Stephen Harper. He said the prime minister's decision to prorogue Parliament has added to what has always been a character issue.

"It's about a guy who looks a little sneaky and un-Canadian in some respects, pressing an advantage like a bully."

The government's handling of the Haitian earthquake won praise, but hasn't shaken doubts about the prime minister.

"It's overcome by lingering animosity toward a political leader who has done something that Canadians clearly think is untoward," Gregg said.

While the latest survey didn't look at the leadership question, Gregg said Harper has lost ground there in recent months: "Harper basically took a 14-point hit between fall and post-prorogation."

However, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff didn't bolster his own leadership numbers in that period.

The telephone poll of 2,000 people was taken Jan. 21-31 and has a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The margin of error for provincial and other breakdowns is higher due to the smaller sample sizes.