A majority of Canadians don’t like the way the Conservative government has handled the Senate expenses scandal, according to a new poll released ahead of an expected cabinet shuffle.

The Ipsos Reid poll for CTV News found that 70 per cent of respondents “disapprove” of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s handling of the affair.

  • 41 per cent said they “strongly” disapprove
  • 30 per cent said they “somewhat” disapprove
  • and 38 per cent of identified Conservatives say they also disapprove

Of the 30 per cent of Canadians who said they “approve” of the prime minister’s handling of the crisis:

  • 6 per cent said they “strongly” approve
  • 23 per cent said they “somewhat” approve

Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Reid, told CTV News that the problem facing the government is that “you can’t win with 30 per cent.”

“Their base I would say is satisfied, rather than happy,” Bricker said. “But the rest of the country is not buying what they’re selling on the Senate scandal right now.”

On the upside for the government, Bricker said, is that barring any new major revelations about the scandal, particularly what the prime minster knew and when he knew it, “I expect what you’re seeing for the Conservatives right now is pretty much their rock bottom.”

The most recent data follows a poll conducted in late May that found that two-thirds of Canadians believe that the involvement in the affair by Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright was a serious ethical breach by the prime minister and his government. In that poll, only 13 per cent of respondents said they believed that Harper did not know about the $92,000 Wright gave to Sen. Mike Duffy to pay off ineligible living expenses.

Wright resigned days after media reports indicated he had paid the money to Duffy. Late last week it was revealed that the Conservative Party itself was going to repay Duffy’s expenses when party brass thought he only owed $30,000. It was also revealed that members of the prime minister’s staff were aware of Wright’s payout to Duffy.

Harper has maintained throughout the crisis that he knew nothing of the deal until news reports emerged.  "Obviously, had I known about this earlier I would never have allowed this to take place,” Harper told reporters Saturday at an event in Calgary.

The latest poll also found that 62 per cent of Conservative supporters said they approve of Harper’s handling of the scandal, compared to 17 per cent of Liberal supporters and 19 per cent of NDP supporters.

Broken down by province, the percentage of those who signalled their approval includes:

  • 34 per cent of Albertans
  • 32 per cent of British Columbians
  • 31 per cent of Ontarians, as well as residents of Saskatchewan and Manitoba
  • 25 per cent of Quebec residents
  • 22 per cent of people in Atlantic Canada

Despite the lack of approval of the prime minister’s handling of the crisis, a separate poll released last week found the three main federal political parties in a horse race two years out from the next election.

That poll put the parties within five points of each other: Liberal support among decided voters was at 33 per cent, down three points from last month, the Conservatives at 30 per cent, unchanged from last month, and the NDP up one percentage point to 28 per cent support.

“I think the assumption was that the Liberal Party and Justin Trudeau were really starting to pull away from the pack in terms of the opposition options to the Conservative government,” Bricker said. “But the truth is all three parties are actually pretty close. So whatever bump Justin Trudeau got seems to be declining.”

The day before, however, yet another poll found that most respondents believe it’s time for a change in government. That poll found that 30 per cent of respondents feel the Harper government has done a good job and deserves to be re-elected, while 70 per cent feel it’s time for a different party to take over.

The government’s approval rating had recovered three points from May, when the Senate scandal broke, to sit at 41 per cent.

Meanwhile, the prime minister is expected to announce a massive cabinet shuffle. It was supposed to happen next week, but will likely be delayed as the government deals with the weekend train derailment disaster in Lac-Megantic.

“Anything that can put a fresh coat of paint on the Tory option, anything that can make the Conservatives look like they’re moving on and setting up for something else to offer to the Canadian public is good,” Bricker said. “So a cabinet shuffle and a reset on the agenda is absolutely in order.”

Sunday’s findings were from an online poll conducted between June 21 and June 25. The results are considered accurate within +/- 3.3 percentage points.