Dec. 8, 2002. 01:00 AM
Martin's `coronation' continues
Front-running Liberal hard to beat, poll finds Criticisms of former minister has had no effect

TIM HARPER
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF

OTTAWA—Paul Martin has further distanced himself from the rest of the prospective pack of Liberal leadership hopefuls, making him appear "bullet-proof'' and pushing pretenders to the crown off the radar screen.

An EKOS Research poll, done for the Star, CBC and La Presse, shows three other challengers from the Liberal cabinet are increasingly being seen to be performing poorly as they circle the starting gate getting ready for a run at a frontrunner who appears unbeatable.

EKOS found 51 per cent of Canadians believe the former finance minister would make a good prime minister, a figure that jumps to 65 per cent when the question is asked of Liberals, who will choose the next prime minister next Nov. 15.

Only 18 per cent believe Deputy Prime Minister John Manley would make a good prime minister, a number, which sinks to 16 per cent for Industry Minister Allan Rock and sits at 14 per cent for Heritage Minister Sheila Copps.

Roy Romanow, the onetime NDP Saskatchewan premier who recently released a blueprint for the renewal of medicare sits at 17 per cent — and he's not running for anything.

EKOS interviewed 1,205 Canadians 17 years of age or older Dec. 2-4. It says the results are valid plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

"It appears the coronation for Mr. Martin will continue,'' EKOS president Frank Graves said. "He is essentially bullet-proof at this point.''

Most damaging for Rock, Manley and Copps is the more Canadians notice them, the more negatively they are perceived.

Manley, for example, is seen by 35 per cent of Canadians as a potentially "poor'' prime minister. A year ago, only 20 per cent believed that was the case.

The poll was conducted before there were calls for Rock's resignation for his role as the father of a gun control registry, which has made history for cost overruns, jumping from a predicted price-tag of $2 million to $1 billion.

Any criticism directed at Martin about his waffling over support of the Kyoto climate accord, or fears he will crumble under the weight of expectations, have had no effect, Graves said.

The news is even better for Martin when EKOS asked Canadians who they thought would make a good prime minister, but did not mention any names.

He is more than 18 times more popular than the next most popular Liberal, Manley, and when Liberals were asked that question, he outpolled Manley by 49 per cent to 3.2 per cent.

Rock trails at 1.4 per cent among Liberals, former industry minister Brian Tobin, who is not running and has left politics, is at 1.3 per cent and Copps is 0.5 per cent.

Among respondents in general, she sits only narrowly ahead of former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day.

"The numbers for the others who may challenge Martin are so small, it's kind of silly,'' Graves said. "It is difficult to graph them.''

Overall, the Liberals maintain a strong lead in popular support, with 46.7 per cent.

The Canadian Alliance has regained second spot with 16 per cent, the Progressive Conservatives have 14.4 per cent support, the NDP 11.2 per cent and the Bloc Québécois 8.4 per cent.

Graves said Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper appears to have won back the traditional constituency for the party, many of whom had fled during Day's troubled leadership.

Support is back up to 39 per cent for the Alliance in Alberta, where they lead the Liberals.

In Ontario, the Liberals have 56 per cent support, the Tories 18 per cent, the Alliance 15 per cent, and the New Democrats 9 per cent.





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