The Liberals gloated; the Conservatives looked for silver linings; and supporters of John Turner groaned. The event: publication last week of the monthly Gallup poll of party preferences which showed the Liberals in a remarkable turnaround, closing the gap between themselves and the Conservatives from 10 percentage points to two * The poll not only portended a down-to-the-wire race for power when the election is finally called; it also slammed the door shut on speculation that Pierre Trudeau would abandon the Liberal leadership to Turner.
The sharp shift in the popularity of the two leading parties, which Gallup said occurred in every region of the country, caught many observers by surprise. But the party professionals said that they knew it all along, that the 10-point Conservative lead in the previous poll was an aberration caused by the euphoria over the Tory sweep in last fall’s byelections, and that traditional voting behavior had resumed. The Liberals also saw in the latest poll an indication that voters had, for the first time, looked at Conservative leader Joe Clark as a potential prime minister and found him wanting.
The Conservatives, as frontrunners, also found their policies under an increasingly intense media spotlight. And Clark, interviewed by the CBC last week, was on shaky ground in answers to questions on his
*In the November poll, released last month,the Covservativesledthe Liberals L5to35.Inthe December poll. released last week, they led J,0 to 33.
budget proposals (he said he would increase the deficit, but that his deficit would be ‘‘stimulative” whereas the government’s is not) and his attitude toward negotiating sovereignty-association with Quebec ("Federalism is negotiation,” he said).
On the latter question, the Conservatives were not helped by their new Toronto MP, David Crombie. First on CTV’S Question Period, then in an interview with Le Devoir, the influential Montreal daily, Crombie played down the threat to Confederation from Quebec Premier René Lévesque and bad-mouthed Quebec Liberal leader Claude Ryan, a federalist. Whether this is part of a grand Tory strategy to attract separatist votes in Quebec or just a sample of Toronto chic is uncertain.
The Conservatives are desperate for more votes in Quebec, where Clark keeps predicting an upswing that has yet to materialize (the last Gallup poll showed them still
trailing the Liberals in Quebec by a ratio of three to one). The Liberals, meanwhile, are trying to win back English-speaking Canada, where they trail the Conservatives by a ratio of five to three, with a two-pronged strategy: attack the Tory stand on Quebec and avoid making mistakes. They have been relatively successful with the latter and, if they begin making progress on the former, the election could come sooner than expected Prime Minister Trudeau, it is known, has told Liberal MPS he wants the parliamentary agenda cleared of all urgent legislation by the end of February. That could mean an election call in March for the country’s first-ever May vote Ian Urquhart
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.