Tories making inroads
Canadian Alliance `slipping badly' in polls after Harper's low-key summer
Les Whittington
OTTAWA — Joe Clark and the Progressive Conservatives are pulling ahead of their rivals in the Canadian Alliance as the second-place contender behind the Liberals, according to a new national survey.

The poll shows the Tories with 14.7 per cent support from decided voters, compared with 10.5 per cent for the Alliance under new leader Stephen Harper. Both are far behind the Liberals, who boast 53.1 per cent voter support according the Aug. 22-25 poll by EKOS Research Associates Inc.

EKOS president Frank Graves said the Alliance party, which appeared under Harper to be consolidating its hold in the West in the spring, is losing ground.

Graves referred to the performance by Harper, who has been criticized for staying off the national stage this summer and failing to take advantage of the disorder in the Liberal party over Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's future.

"It's rather curious where Mr. Harper has been all summer, and clearly it hasn't had a positive impact on the Alliance's standing in the polls," said Graves. "They're slipping badly."

He noted the Tories are also the second-place party in voter preference in Ontario now, with 17 per cent of decided voter supporter versus 8 per cent for the Canadian Alliance.

"With the right leader, they're probably well-positioned to possibly vault themselves into more of a serious contender status," Graves said. Clark has announced his intention to step down.

Nationally, the New Democrats are fourth in current popularity with 10.6 per cent of voter support, followed by the Bloc Québécois with 8 per cent.

Graves said both the Tories and the Alliance may have trouble enhancing their standings if Martin becomes Liberal leader. He is well liked among many conservative voters. His appeal is also strong enough in Quebec to take voters away from the Bloc, Graves said.

This phenomenon is so pronounced that, based on current polls, the Liberals led by Martin could win 250 out of 301 Parliamentary seats in an election, Graves speculated.

The poll offered no great hope for former Ontario premier Mike Harris, whose name has been mentioned as a possible national candidate capable of uniting the right.

Harris is "really not ringing any bells with Canadians at all. He's not seen as a serious contender at all at this stage," Graves said.

When asked to rate who would be a good future prime minister, 43 per cent of respondents said Harris would be a poor choice, compared with 22 per cent who said he would be a good choice.

A long-time adviser to Harris said the former premier will have nothing to do with federal politics as long as the Conservatives and Alliance fight for the same turf.

The Tory convention in Edmonton last weekend pretty well sealed any federal ambitions Harris may have had when the party faithful agreed to spurn the Alliance and go it alone, the adviser told The Star's Richard Brennan yesterday.

"The decision by the Tories over the weekend, compounded by the reaction of Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper, almost certainly means Harris will not be exploring federal options any further."

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