OTTAWA -- A quiet summer has given Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives some breathing room as they head today into what could be an acrimonious fall sitting of Parliament.
A new poll gives the governing party a seven-point lead over the Opposition New Democrats -- a cushion they may need if a second omnibus budget implementation bill sparks the same public backlash and all-out parliamentary warfare its predecessor did last spring.
The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey, which was conducted Aug. 30-Sept. 10, put Conservative support at 34 per cent of respondents, the NDP at 27, the Liberals at 24 and the Greens at seven.
The telephone poll of 2,007 Canadians is considered accurate within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times in 20.
The results suggest Canadians may be slowly returning to "more traditional patterns of voting behaviour," said Harris-Decima chairman Allan Gregg.
Until now, New Democrats had been running neck and neck with -- or even slightly ahead of -- the ruling party, eating into core Conservative support among older, male and rural voters and core Liberal support among female and urban voters.
The latest poll suggests those voters are migrating back to their traditional choices, said Gregg, causing NDP support to sag and producing modest gains for the Conservatives and Liberals.
A relatively sleepy summer with little federal political controversy has likely helped settle voters back into a somewhat more traditional pattern. But today's resumption of Parliament could shake things up again.
"As we know, the House has become a combat zone and, absent that, things do settle down; there aren't those events that drive people's change in viewpoint as much," Gregg said.
"I think that conventional wisdom is right, that Parliament and Parliament sitting is the enemy of the incumbent."
Just how much of an enemy Parliament proves to be to Harper's Conservatives will revolve primarily around the second budget implementation bill, which government House leader Peter Van Loan describes as the "cornerstone legislation" of a fall sitting focused on job creation and economic growth.
The first omnibus budget bill last spring -- a 400-plus page behemoth that amended some 70 different pieces of legislation -- sparked a furor. It was a massive grab-bag of measures, many that had little to do with the 2012 budget, including a complete rewrite of environmental protection legislation, an overhaul of employment insurance, changes to employment equity law and new rules for political advocacy by charities.
How New Democrats respond to the bill "depends what's in it," said Nathan Cullen, the NDP's House leader.
"It's the opening of the conversation. If the government wants to take a belligerent, bully approach, then it's going to set the tone for what's to come."
According to the Harris-Decima poll, the NDP were leading in Quebec with 31 per cent support, compared with 25 per cent for the Bloc Quebecois, 24 for the Liberals, 15 for the Tories and four for the Greens.
The Conservatives had a 10-point lead in Ontario. The NDP and Conservatives were tied at 33 per cent in British Columbia.
The Conservatives held a commanding lead in Alberta and Manitoba/Saskatchewan. But they trailed with only 25 per cent in Atlantic Canada, where the NDP and Liberals were statistically tied.
-- The Canadian Press