A stronger Canadian economy is giving Justin Trudeau momentum ahead of the fall election

A stronger Canadian economy is giving Justin Trudeau momentum ahead of the fall election
A dead heat among voters over which leader is best suited to steer the Canadian economy appears to be breaking in Justin Trudeau’s favour.

The Liberal prime minister is pulling ahead of his main rival on the crucial question of economic stewardship in the run up to the October election. According to a survey by Nanos Research Group for Bloomberg News, 31 per cent of respondents say they trust Trudeau most to promote economic growth, compared with 26 per cent for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Nearly a third of those polled don’t trust anyone or are unsure, with the remainder split among smaller parties.

Trudeau and Scheer had been neck-and-neck on the issue for two straight months, though Canada’s economic performance has been firming up, with rising consumer confidence putting a wind in Liberal sails.

“When Canadians feel good about the economy it’s usually good news for the incumbent,” pollster Nik Nanos said Wednesday in an interview. “This could be a situation where the prime minister is not necessarily benefiting from anything that he has specifically done, but he’s benefiting from an economic mood that is more positive than earlier in the year.”

The change in voter perceptions on economic stewardship comes as the Liberals regain their stride in broader polling. Trudeau had enjoyed a comfortable lead over the Conservatives for the first two years of his mandate, but missteps on the world stage and a domestic scandal involving SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., a construction company headquartered in his hometown of Montreal, put the prime minister on the ropes heading into this year’s election.

While polling averages compiled by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. still show the Conservatives ahead by about 4 percentage points, the latest weekly Nanos national tracking numbers put Trudeau’s Liberals ahead of Scheer’s team 36 per cent to 30 per cent. Among women, that advantage grows to as much 15 points.

According to Nanos, the trend line started to change after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Ottawa at the end of May, prompting Trudeau to speak out against what he called U.S. “backsliding” on women’s rights. “Although women are disappointed in the prime minister because of the SNC-Lavalin affair, abortion is a bit of a reset button among women voters that has helped the Liberals,” the pollster said.

The controversy over SNC-Lavalin had become the biggest thorn in Trudeau’s side. He and his staff were accused of trying to pressure the former attorney-general into ordering prosecutors to settle a corruption case that dates back to the engineering firm’s work in Moammar Qaddafi’s Libya.

Trudeau says he did nothing wrong and was only attempting to protect jobs, but the scandal cost him two high-profile cabinet ministers — both women — and a top aide he’s known since university. While the story dominated political debate in Ottawa at the start of the year, it has since gone quiet with the company now searching for a new chief executive officer.

“For Andrew Scheer, he has to recognize that it’s going to take more than the SNC controversy to win the election,” Nanos said. “He needs to have a prosperity narrative.”

With Trudeau’s Liberals poised to chalk up a win on the pending ratification of the new North American free-trade deal — or blame its failure squarely on Donald Trump — the pollster added: “The Conservatives have to make sure that they’re not distracted by Liberal scandal and that they stay focused on bread-and-butter issues like the economy.”

The Nanos poll on economic stewardship was conducted between June 29 and July 4. It’s considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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