Alliance leader Day losing more ground to Clark, poll shows
Tim Harper

OTTAWA - Stockwell Day's trust level among Canadians has dropped, suggesting Joe Clark's Progressive Conservatives could re-establish themselves as a national alternative to the governing Liberals, a new poll says.

The Toronto Star/La Presse poll, conducted by Ekos Research, indicates that the Canadian Alliance chief is seen as the least trustworthy of the four national party leaders, highly trusted by only 22 per cent of respondents, while 52 per cent said they had low trust in him, and 21 per cent had moderate trust.

In October, his figures for high trust were 26 per cent, while 38 per cent said low trust and 27 per cent said moderate.

Clark, on the other hand, had the ``high trust'' of 34 per cent of respondents, trailing only Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's 42 per cent trust level. The NDP's Alexa McDonough had the trust of 25 per cent of respondents.

Most damaging for Day, said Ekos president Frank Graves, is that the level of mistrust of the Alliance leader grows as more Canadians get to know him.

He also scores lowest in trust among urban Canadians, those with a university education and women.

``This augurs poorly for his future on the national stage,'' Graves said.

Clark, on the other hand, saw his trust rating jump by 10 percentage points since last autumn's election campaign, and his party is within eight percentage points of the Alliance.

``The PCs may be poised to re-establish themselves as the national alternative in the coming years,'' Graves said.

The poll of 1,491 Canadians was conducted between Jan. 5 and Wednesday evening, and is considered accurate within plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Overall, Ekos found Chrétien's Liberals have rebounded to their level of strength on the eve of last October's election call. The rebound has been at the expense of the Bloc Québécois and the Alliance.

The Liberals now have 49 per cent support nationally, up eight percentage points from election night. The Canadian Alliance has the support of 21 per cent of decided voters, down 4.5 percentage points from the election results.

The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats have held relatively stable from election night at 13 per cent and 8 per cent respectively, while the Bloc now has the support of 7 per cent of decided Quebecers, a drop of almost four percentage points since the Nov. 27 vote.

At one point during last autumn's election campaign, Day's Alliance had a 20-percentage-point lead on Clark's Tories, but recent numbers lend credence to the Conservative view that they could launch a ``reverse takeover'' of the Alliance on the right.

The poll was done during a period when Day was beset by a number of problems, including an $800,000 bill he left with Alberta taxpayers for his ill-fated defamation suit against a Red Deer, Alta., school trustee and lawyer.

It was also revealed the party paid $50,000 to former MP Jim Hart to clear out a British Columbia riding for Day; his deputy leader Deborah Grey flip-flopped and decided to accept her parliamentary pension; and two of his MPs attended an Alberta independence meeting.

Fading Bloc support also came following last month's resignation of Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard.

The much-publicized East-West fracture in the country is really an Alberta-East fracture, Graves said.

He said it appeared Albertans felt ``rejected, even ridiculed'' by the treatment of their favourite son, Day, elsewhere in the country, particularly Ontario.

Alberta respondents are the opposite of Canadians in other provinces when it comes to Liberal support, their satisfaction with the election results and their satisfaction with media coverage of the campaign.

``Alberta is now the hotbed of discontent,'' Graves said.

Some of Clark's trust ratings could be inflated because he is seen by some Canadians as an elder statesman with no real prospect of again becoming prime minister, Graves said.

And despite both personal and party growth, he said, Clark is hamstrung by the fact the party has only 12 seats in the House of Commons and will have great difficulty sustaining any momentum.

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