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Chretien's on a roll
Tonda MacCharles
OTTAWA BUREAU
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OTTAWA - Prime Minister Jean Chrétien cruises into the fall parliamentary session with his governing Liberals leading in popularity in every region of the country while the Canadian Alliance faces political oblivion, a major new poll shows.

But a majority of Canadians think the Liberals should take on a bolder, more ambitious agenda and not be complacent, according to EKOS Research, which conducted the survey for The Toronto Star, La Presse and the CBC.

''The appetite for a new vision is evident throughout the political spectrum,'' says EKOS president Frank Graves.

With nearly 53 per cent support among decided voters, the Liberals now dominate the political landscape, leading even in British Columbia and Alberta, where disillusionment with the Alliance runs deep.

That kind of approval rating could mean 250 Liberal seats - out of a total of 301 - if a federal election were held immediately, says EKOS.

Nationally, the Liberals are up nearly 12 points from the 40.9 per cent they won in last fall's election when the party took 172 seats.

''The key shift is the Canadian Alliance appears to be slipping into political oblivion,'' says Graves.

The Alliance registered just 9.8 per cent support among decided voters, down from 25.5 per cent in the fall election when they won 66 seats.

The Progressive Conservatives, on the other hand, have edged steadily upwards from 12 per cent to sit at nearly 18 per cent nationally. The party continues to show its strength in Atlantic Canada.

''The Progressive Conservatives have now emerged as the clear, but I would stress distant, alternative,'' Graves said.

The New Democrats, at 9.1 per cent, have barely moved from the 8.5 per cent support in the 2000 election.

EKOS conducted telephone interviews with 2,972 Canadians between July 26 and Aug. 29. The poll is considered accurate to within 1.8 percentage points 19 times out of 20. Regional results are less accurate.

Seventeen per cent of those surveyed said they were undecided, wouldn't vote or refused to answer.

Unlike the 2000 election, when Liberal support seemed concentrated in the East, the East-West divide has evaporated, Graves says.

The Alliance vote has collapsed in the West, and even Stockwell Day's promise of a leadership race, announced before the survey was conducted, has not managed to raise the party's profile.

In B.C., the Liberals surged ahead to 52 per cent of support among committed voters, up from 32 per cent at the last election. Alliance support has dropped to 19 per cent, while the Tories are at 14 per cent, and the NDP are at 11 per cent.

In Alberta, it's still a three-way race, but the Liberals at 33 per cent now have a lead over both the Tories, at 30 per cent, and the Alliance, with 26.

Elsewhere, the Liberals remain comfortably ahead, especially in their stronghold of Ontario with the support of 62 per cent of committed or ''leaning'' voters.

In Ontario, the Alliance is at 8 per cent, sitting even below the NDP at 10 per cent. The Tories have 20 per cent support.

And across the country, Chrétien himself is nearing his highest popular approval ratings ever, with 45 per cent of Canadians saying they have high trust in him.

Day barely registers on the trust scale with just 10 per cent expressing high trust in him.

Meanwhile, Tory Leader Joe Clark's trust numbers have gone up to 38 per cent.

''Joe Clark is Canada's political Lazarus, and Stockwell Day is pretty much on life support now,'' says Graves.

''Whether it translates into three more years, I don't know,'' Graves adds. ''But the PM seems poised if he wishes to produce another majority.''



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