Straight Talk
DAVID AKIN - A summer of discontent for Canada's conservatives

Credits: STEVENS LEBLANC/JOURNAL DE QUÉBEC/AGENCE QMI

DAVID AKIN | NATIONAL BUREAU CHIEF

OTTAWA -- Is this a summer of discontent for the country's conservatives?

Look around.

In three provinces, parties that call themselves Progressive Conservative are leaderless and adrift.

Nationally, Stephen Harper's Conservatives have been running second to Justin Trudeau's Liberals in all but seven of 63 polls published by several different firms in the last 15 months.

The most recent one, published last week by Abacus Data, found the Tories trailing the Grits by three points. Abacus also reported this remarkable statistic: 13% -- or better than one in ten -- of the 5.8 million Canadians who cast a ballot towards a Harper majority government in 2011 would now cast a ballot for one of Trudeau's Liberal candidates. (The news is even worse for the New Democrats as nearly one in four of the 4.5 million who voted for Jack Layton would now vote for Trudeau.)

In the nine by-elections since Trudeau won the leadership of his party last summer, the federal Conservatives have held four of the five seats in which they were the incumbent -- the only loss was to Trudeau's candidate -- but their share of the popular vote has dropped precipitously in many cases while the share of the Liberal vote has risen in every contest, even in a riding like Scarborough-Agincourt that always and forever votes Liberal.

So more and more Canadians are voting for Trudeau when they get the chance and more and more are telling pollsters they'd vote for Trudeau if they had the chance.

This, despite the fact that the Conservative Party of Canada spent $1.5 million on radio and TV ads -- mostly TV -- in the last year to encourage Canadians to adopt the same low opinion of Trudeau that Conservative HQ has of him.

The net effect? We turn again to this month's Abacus Poll to find that 37 per cent of Canadians have a positive impression of Trudeau and that number is up, not down, since Abacus last asked the question in March.

The Abacus poll showed some improvement in the last few months in federal Conservative fortunes in B.C. and in Ontario but that is thin gruel for the blue team.

Meanwhile, conservative-minded voters in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, and, to a degree, in Alberta are looking for leaders.

The Tories in Newfoundland are the governing party and yet their leadership race to replace the unpopular Kathy Dunderdale -- she resigned earlier this year -- has been a fiasco. Their first attempt to find a new premier went like this: Three entered the race. One was disqualified by the party for saying stupid things on Twitter.  Another one withdrew in favour of Frank Coleman. Days before he was to be acclaimed premier, Coleman withdrew leaving no one in the 'race." So they've started all over and have three new contestants. The winner is likely to lose anyhow next year to the resurgent provincial Liberals and their new leader Dwight Ball.

In Ontario, Progressive Conservatives are leaderless again and trying to figure out why, despite the scandal and waste of the Liberal incumbent, they could not do in the general election last month what they haven't done since 1999 - win government.

Peter Shurman, a former PC MPP from the party's right wing, told me on my Sun News Network program that he thinks the party actually needs to be more 'progressive.'

In Alberta, a focus on being progressive helped Alison Redford's Progressive Conservatives vanquish a strong challenge in 2012 from the right in the form of the Wildrose Party. But Redford was forced to quit for her own spending sins and the PC Party in Alberta, trailing badly in the polls to Wildrose, hopes the new leader -- likely Jim Prentice -- can resurrect Progressive Conservative fortunes there.

Many questions, then, for the country's conservatives as they meet this summer over barbecues and corn roasts.

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