OTTAWA — Canadians support
Jean Chrétien's decision to step down in 2004 and are ready to vault the
Liberals back into power under the hugely popular Paul Martin, a new
national poll says.
The survey, conducted by EKOS Research Associates Inc. for The
Toronto Star and CBC, found 67 per cent support Chrétien's retirement
plans, with a majority of Canadians predicting Martin will become the next
Liberal leader and prime minister.
Martin's hold on the public is so powerful that his main risk is
overinflated expectations, said EKOS president Frank Graves.
"You would probably have to go back to Moses to find another leader
who has been freighted with as much expectations from his people as Mr.
Martin is today," he said.
Chrétien's decision to open the way for Martin has been a shot in
the arm for the Liberals, who would garner the support of 53.1 per cent of
decided voters if an election were held now — enough for an overwhelming
majority victory, said Graves.
The Liberals' rise in the polls "is just sort of a big sigh of
relief on the part of the public, and particularly Liberal voters, that,
okay, this thing has been solved," Graves explained.
Martin is riding the strongest wave of popularity in recent
political history, he said. The poll found 63 per cent of respondents
believe the former finance minister would make a good prime minister, a
rating that left other Liberal leadership hopefuls far behind.
The Liberals are now ahead in every region of the country. In
Ontario, they enjoy 64 per cent popularity among decided voters, with the
Tories second at 17 per cent, followed by the NDP with 9 per cent and the
Alliance at 8 per cent.
The survey of 1,210 adults was conducted Aug. 22-25, shortly after
Chrétien announced his retirement plans Wednesday. The poll is considered
accurate within plus-or-minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
While 67 per cent approved of the Prime Minister' decision to leave
politics, 25 per cent opposed the move (9 per cent had no opinion). Of
those who opposed it, the vast majority said Chrétien should leave sooner.
Voters who back the opposition parties were more likely than Liberal
supporters to express that view that 18 months was too long to wait.
Graves said many Canadians would ideally like to see Chrétien leave
sooner. But there is a widespread conviction that forcing an earlier
leadership convention would not be worth the political damage that might
ensue by forcing the timing issue, he said.
Graves also said the pollsters found little support among Liberals
for holding the national convention scheduled for February now that
Chrétien has announced plans to step down.
The main event at the convention would have been a vote of
confidence in Chrétien's leadership, but that showdown is unlikely to take
place now. The Liberal executive committee will probably postpone the
Martin, who left cabinet June 2 in a dispute with Chrétien, enjoys
"sky-high" expectations from Canadians, EKOS found.
More than half of respondents said Martin will be the next leader
when the Liberals chose a new standard-bearer. Deputy Prime Minister John
Manley placed a distant second, with 5 per cent predicting he would
"This is not a contest, it's a coronation," Graves said.
EKOS also found that Canadians believe the policies of a Martin-led
government would be roughly the same as seen under Chrétien.
But 83 per cent expect the economy would be better managed under
Martin. And, in an apparent contradiction, the public also said a Martin
government would invest more money in social programs like health care and
education while at the same time lowering taxes.
A majority also said there would be more private health care under
a Martin-led government.
With the prospect of Martin becoming leader, the Liberals now stand
at 53.1 per cent of decided voter support across the country. In the 2000
federal election, Chrétien needed only 40.9 per cent support to win a
third consecutive majority.
The Progressive Conservatives, with 14.7 per cent support, have
moved into second place in decided voter popularity.
The Canadian Alliance under new leader Stephen Harper has slipped
to 10.5 per cent, putting it just behind the New Democrats, with 10.6 per
cent. The Bloc Québécois has 8 per cent.
Undecided voters totalled 24.8 per cent.
"The Liberals seem to have rebounded extremely well from all of the
turmoil and difficulties that were really hurting it," said Graves. He was
referring to the deepening clash between Chrétien loyalists and supporters
of Martin's leadership aspirations. The resulting disarray in the Liberal
government has caused a steady decline in Liberal popularity in the first
half of this year.
Graves said that Chrétien is leaving "in relatively good standing
with the public," especially compared to former prime minister Brian
Mulroney, who left with his party at 16 per cent in the polls.
|ANDREW STAWICKI/TORONTO STAR FILE
|MOST POPULAR: A new EKOS poll says
Paul Martin, seen at Glen Abbey Golf Club earlier this month with
supporters at a fundraiser, enjoys enormous popularity across the
country, including 64 per cent in Ontario who said they'd vote for
him in an election.|