The Ipsos Reid survey, conducted for CanWest News Service and Global National, found 54 per cent of Canadians disapproved of Harper's decision not to attend the AIDS conference and delay a planned funding announcement because the issue had become "too politicized." Forty-three per cent supported the prime minister.
Resentment was highest in Quebec, where 61 per cent of those surveyed characterized Harper's actions as "the wrong thing to do."
The Quebec numbers come as bad news for the Tories, who need to improve their fortunes there to have a shot at majority government in the next election.
The last hope for Harper, tackle fiscal imbalance in such a way that Quebec is the clear beneficiary. Given the political and practical reality, it would appear Harper is destined to fail in delivering this promise. Therefore, we now have an opportunity for the Liberal Party to fill the federalist vacuum, in a way that didn't seem possible only a few months ago. The simple fact, despite the stain of recent scandals, the Liberal Party is far more reflective of Quebecer's core values, which makes a comeback entirely possible. The Conservatives can pour all the money and energy they want into the province, but the simple counter is the laundry list of issues that put the Conservatives at odds with the majority of Quebecers. You could argue that this benefits Duceppe, and it may, but it also affords the Liberals an unexpected gift.
The situation in Quebec makes the Liberal leadership choice all the more important. I don't claim to have intimate knowledge of Quebecers feelings, but it would appear that Stephane Dion has been somewhat successful in rehabilitating his image and discarding some of the baggage. Do Liberals favor Dion as their best chance to re-take Quebec, or is this a simple pipedream? Rae and Ignatieff also seem to enjoy support in Quebec, Rae in particular has a resume that shows a commitment to Quebecers. Ignatieff has draw sizeable crowds in Quebec, his French is exceptional and he does have roots in the province. If Liberals decide to emphasize a return to prominence in Quebec, then maybe Kennedy is the big loser, given his relatively bad French and negative coverage from the Quebec media.
Harper's numbers are also slipping in Ontario, which opens up the possiblity that the Liberals could return to power by appealing to their old powerbases. I think Kennedy has the best chance to make gains in the West, which is something the Liberals, and the country, desperately needs. But tactically, Harper's stumble in Quebec may present the Liberals with their best chance to re-take power.