OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau's Liberals and Andrew Scheer's Conservatives were running neck-and-neck during warm-up laps for the start of the 40-day federal election campaign, a new poll suggests.
The Leger poll — released just hours before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to fire the starting gun Wednesday — suggests Jagmeet Singh's NDP and Elizabeth May's Greens were also in a dead heat, competing for a distant third place.
It put Conservative support at 35 per cent nationally to the Liberals' 34 per cent — essentially a tie.
The NDP and Greens were also tied at 11 per cent, with Maxime Bernier's fledgling People's Party bringing up the rear with just three per cent.
The poll of 1,546 eligible voters selected from Leger's online panel was conducted Sept. 6-9. Internet-based surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered random samples.
The poll suggests the Liberals were ahead in Ontario and Quebec, the two provinces that account for almost 60 per cent of the 338 seats up for grabs, but the battle among the smaller parties could ultimately decide which of the two main parties wins the big prize.
In Ontario, support for the Liberals stood at 37 per cent, compared to 31 per cent for the Conservatives, 15 per cent for both the Greens and NDP and two per cent for the People's Party.
In Quebec, the Liberals enjoyed the support of 37 per cent, well ahead of the Conservatives at 22 per cent, the Bloc Quebecois at 21 per cent, the Greens at 10 per cent, the NDP at six per cent and the People's Party at five per cent.
The Liberals are counting on making gains in the two largest provinces to compensate for losses elsewhere. But Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque said Liberal hopes of cashing in on a possible NDP collapse in Quebec could be stymied by the Conservatives and the Bloc. Both were in the range needed to pick up seats in the province.
The Liberals were also leading comfortably in Atlantic Canada, with 53 per cent support compared to 28 per cent for the Conservatives, nine per cent for the NDP, seven for the Greens and three for the People's Party.
The Conservatives were the overwhelming favourites in Alberta and Manitoba/Saskatchewan, with 60 per cent and 57 per cent respectively — provinces where they already hold the vast majority of seats and have little to gain.
British Columbia was more of a toss-up, with the Conservatives at 36 per cent, the Liberals at 33, the NDP at 15, the Greens at 10 and the People's Party at four.
Twenty-six per cent of respondents said they're likely to change their minds before election day on Oct. 21, with supporters of smaller parties most likely to shift.
That compared to 68 per cent of Liberals, 67 per cent of Conservatives and 61 per cent of Bloquistes who said they've already made their final choices. Just 50 per cent of Greens, 42 per cent of New Democrats and 22 per cent of People's Party supporters were firm.
The poll suggests the Liberals still have hope of picking up Green and NDP supporters, although that's somewhat diminished by the fact that the Greens and NDP are now more likely to trade votes.
Among Green supporters, 31 per cent picked the NDP as their second choice, 22 per cent the Liberals and just five per cent the Conservatives. Among New Democrat supporters, 33 per cent picked the Greens as their second choice, the same percentage as picked the Liberals, with just 14 per cent choosing the Conservatives.
The Conservatives were the preferred second choice only of the small band of People's Party supporters (40 per cent).
The national numbers suggest that on the eve of the election call, neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives were in position to win a majority of seats and that the Tories, with the least potential for second choice votes, face the hardest climb to get a majority.
Yet, 57 per cent of respondents said they want a change in government and 56 per cent said they want a majority government.
Twenty-five per cent picked Trudeau as the best prime minister and 23 per cent picked Scheer, with just eight per cent choosing May, seven per cent choosing Singh and four per cent choosing Bernier.
Asked to choose the two most important issues that will determine which party they'll support, 35 per cent picked the level of income taxation. Another 35 per cent chose job creation and economic growth and 30 per cent chose fighting climate change. Public finances, debt and seniors issues followed with 20 per cent each. Nineteen per cent named fighting poverty as a top issue and 17 per cent named immigration.
The poll also asked respondents to choose the best campaign slogan.
The Greens' "Not left. Not right. Forward Together" was preferred by 22 per cent, followed by 19 per cent for the People's Party's "Strong and Free," 16 per cent for the Conservatives' "It's Time for You to Get Ahead," 13 per cent for the Liberals' "Choose Forward" and six per cent for the NDP's "In it for you."
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press