It now seems certain that we will have a spring election in Canada. So what are the polls saying? Well it is not clear:
The most recent polls have trended away from the Conservatives toward the Liberals and the NDP (which is ahead of its 2006 pace in the three most recent polls even while it is clear that the Green Party is bleeding away some supporters). Overall, however, the numbers aren't all that far away from 2006.
And though the polls are bit better now for the opposition, it appears that the focus of the Tories on crime and Afghanistan is simply an effort to create some noise in order to persuade Canadians that an election is inevitable.
It is TC's assessment that Harper thinks he can easily handle Stéphane Dion and that now is the most propitious time for an election. It will probably be a non-confidence vote on the Conservatives' February 26 budget that will trigger an election call, likely for April 21.
The Conservatives' present calculation seems to be that they can make the economy the issue and that they can market themselves as the party most capable of handling the looming economic storm clouds. In fact this does seem ideal timing for Harper. For Canada economic difficulties are mostly something one reads about in the Report on Business as the recession is in its early days compared to the situation in the U.S.
And the first instinct of many voters in this context is to opt to support a more conservative party that believes in the efficacy of the market and capitalism to deal with a downturn. A year into a recession that kind of belief would be replaced by sheer hostility directed at the government for screwing things up economically, but it takes some time for a failing economy to produce powerful political effects. Other things being equal the current circumstances favour the re-election of the government.
TC does not believe what most pundits do: that it is all about Harper's leadership versus Dion's personal popularity. Issues are what matter. Early in the last Ontario election campaign, a poll by Strategic Counsel (page 13) found that by a 37 to 31 margin Ontarians thought John Tory would make the best premier. But the election wound up turning on an issue: Tory's promise to fund religious schools, and Dalton McGuinty cruised to a second majority.
While it appears likely that economic issues will dominate, that is by no means certain (who knows, maybe Afghanistan or global warming will be major issues) There are sure to be some wild cards such as an endorsement of the Liberals by Green leader Elizabeth May. It is all clouding the picture in TC's crystal ball.