Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Grits sanding away at Tory support

Federal Liberals soar past NDP at Conservative expense: poll

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A Liberal dose of Grit politics in Manitoba that includes a run of campaign stops from federal leader Justin Trudeau has party members convinced they are finally on the upswing.

And new polling numbers suggest this might not be just spin.

A province-wide survey by Probe Research shows the federal Liberals have nearly doubled their popular support in Manitoba since the last federal election, leapfrogging past Thomas Mulcair's NDP and now running neck-and-neck with the Conservatives in Winnipeg.

The Liberals, at 32 per cent province-wide, have siphoned nearly all their new support from the federal Tories, who have even seen their support dip, even in rural Manitoba that has been their bedrock.

"Liberal is no longer a four-letter word in Manitoba," said Probe's Curtis Brown.

Still, the Tory lead across Manitoba is substantial, 10 points above the Liberals and tops in every demographic, even women and young people. Probe Research has occasionally tested Manitobans' views on federal politics, but for years the picture has been static. The new figures are part of a broad shift in Manitoba's political landscape that has affected provincial affairs and reflects national trends, which have the Liberals leading.

"I don't worry about polling, particularly. What I'm pleased with is the response I'm getting," said Trudeau, in Manitoba Wednesday to stump for the Liberal candidate in Provencher and host a town-hall meeting with students at the University of Manitoba. "I'm very excited to have these byelections launched so we can demonstrate that the Liberal party is a better alternative than Mr. Harper."

Campaigning is well underway in the ridings of Provencher and Brandon-Souris in advance of an expected by-election call later this fall. Both ridings were vacated over the summer when Conservative MPs Vic Toews and Merv Tweed resigned mid-term.

Against all odds, Brandon-Souris has proved to be the most exciting riding race in recent Manitoba history and has earned national attention.

A murky Conservative nomination process that disqualified two candidates, including young front-runner Chris Kennedy, has left many Tories angry at what they call heavy-handed interference from party headquarters. Brandon University political scientist Kelly Saunders said the anger is palpable, and has benefited the Liberals.

It's still highly unlikely the Grits will defeat the Tories in Brandon-Souris. Tweed won nearly two-thirds of the vote last election. But Saunders said that margin of victory will shrink significantly, and Liberals are already focused on building toward the 2015 election.

"That's a long-shot, too," said Saunders. "I mean, this is Brandon-Souris."

But Brandon is changing, said Saunders. It's more urban, has many new immigrants, a young population thanks to a college and a university and has voted left-of-centre before. Nearly 60 per cent of the riding lives in Brandon.

Probe's polling can't be used to drill down into the Brandon-Souris riding, but outside the Perimeter, overall Conservative support has dipped by nearly 15 points to 50 per cent. Liberal support has quadrupled since the last election to 28 per cent.

In Winnipeg, Conservative support has dropped 10 points to 37 per cent since the last election and Liberal support has increased even more, to 35 per cent. If those levels hold steady through Trudeau's honeymoon period, it could mean Tories who bested Liberals in the 2011 election -- including Heritage Minister and St. Boniface MP Shelly Glover and Winnipeg South Centre MP Joyce Bateman -- could be in for a tough fight in two years.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 10, 2013 A4

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Updated on Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 6:21 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds videos

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