Contenders in the race to replace Mike Harris as
Ontario's premier say poor polling results are not worrying since the next
Conservative leader will be chosen by card-carrying party members, not the
The Toronto Star-Ekos Research poll of general voters gave a
commanding lead to former finance minister Ernie Eves, with Environment
Minister Elizabeth Witmer in second place.
Labour Minister Chris Stockwell, Health Minister Tony Clement and
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty all trailed badly in the poll, with support
in the single digits.
Eves was the only Tory in the poll who was also preferred by voters
to Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty, while Witmer trailed McGuinty is
general voter support by just one point.
But Dan Tisch, a spokesperson for the Clement campaign, says their
polling among party members who will be voting on March 23 shows their
candidate in second place behind Eves.
Tisch said since the one-member-one-vote system is weighted to give
each of Ontario's 103 ridings equal say in choosing new leader,
on-the-ground organization will prove essential for the eventual winner of
the five-way race.
"(The Star-Ekos poll is) interesting but we don't find it very
relevant since it's not the people who are going to make the decision,"
Tisch said of the sample of 811 Ontarians. "Tony's got the best riding
organization out there and we think that's going to pay off."
Each riding is given 100 "points" in the race and all of the votes
cast in that riding are awarded proportionally to each candidate. For
example, if Eves was to collect 35 per cent of the votes cast in a riding,
he would be given 35 points toward his provincial total. The first
candidate with a clear majority, or 5,151 points or just over half of the
available 10,300 points, wins the contest.
A final decision is expected to take at least two ballots on March
23 and the party says it is prepared for as many as four.
Tisch said Eves' popularity with
the general public is largely due to his name-recognition after more than
five years spent as finance minister and deputy premier in the Harris
government. The Flaherty campaign got a boost over the weekend from its
own poll that shows the finance minister in a toss-up with Eves.
Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said they would vote for
Flaherty, while 27 per cent backed Eves. Witmer trailed in third place
with 10 per cent, Clement at 8 per cent and Stockwell at 5 per cent.
Sixteen per cent were undecided.
The poll, conducted by Winnipeg-based Western Opinion Research on
Friday and Saturday and made available to The Canadian Press, canvassed
only card-carrying Conservatives who planned to vote in the leadership
contest March 23.
"It's hands-on proof that this is a competitive two-way race
between Ernie Eves and Jim Flaherty," Flaherty aide Dan Robertson said
However, the Western poll also suggests Flaherty's aggressive
campaign, in which he has promised to ban teacher strikes, outlaw
homelessness and curb welfare eligibility, appears to have alienated many
Tories as well.
When asked who they would never vote for, Flaherty and Witmer were
tied at 19 per cent. In contrast, only 12 per cent said they would never
vote for Eves.
The Star-Ekos results were good news for Witmer's campaign, which
says it matches what her supporters are hearing in ridings around the
province. "As far as all the people we've talked to are concerned there
are only two candidates who can beat Dalton McGuinty and we're very upbeat
about that," said campaign organizer Rod Phillips.
Beverly Hammond, a spokesperson for the Eves campaign, said the
Star-Ekos results are in keeping with what they've been hearing. She added
that party members are looking for the candidate most able to beat
McGuinty. "I think party members are thinking that way and they should be,
it's imperative that we win the next election," she said.
Liberal party president Greg Sorbara said the poll, which showed
the Liberals with almost 50 per cent of decided voter support in the
province, compared to 38 per cent for the Tories, is good news for his
He said the Liberals are confident that the publicity surrounding
the leadership is the main reason for Eves' numbers and that they will not
survive the test of time.
`(The poll is) interesting
but we don't find it very relevant since it's not the people who are
going to make the decision.'