OTTAWA - Nycole Turmel sees little reason to change the NDP's strategy in Parliament, despite sagging poll numbers and signs that the official Opposition has been out-performed by the third-place Liberals.
The interim NDP leader dismissed suggestions Tuesday her party is in any danger of being eclipsed by the Liberals, either in the polls or in the House of Commons.
With Parliament set to resume Monday after a six-week break, a new poll suggested the Liberals have made slow but steady gains since their unprecedented rout in last May's election, while support for both the Conservatives and NDP has dipped.
The Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll pegged support for the Tories at 32 per cent, down almost eight points since May, the NDP at 29, down almost two points, and the Liberals at 25, up six points.
More worrying for the NDP is the erosion of support in Quebec, the province that delivered more than half the 103 seats won by the party last spring. According to the poll, support for the NDP stood at 32 per cent, down almost 11 points from May, followed by the Bloc Quebecois at 22 per cent, the Liberals at 19, the Tories at 18 and the Greens at eight.
One of the NDP's 59 Quebec MPs defected to the Liberals earlier this month.
NDP support in Ontario has remained essentially unchanged at 26 per cent. But the party has dropped from second place in the province last May to third place as the Liberals have surged into a virtual tie with the flagging Tories.
The poll put the Tories at 35 per cent in Ontario, the Liberals at 34 and the Greens at five.
The telephone survey of 2,009 Canadians was conducted Jan. 12-22 and is considered accurate within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times in 20. The margin of error is larger for smaller regional samples: 4.4 points for Quebec, 3.8 points for Ontario.
Turmel's principal secretary, Brad Lavigne said the poll is actually encouraging, suggesting the NDP has essentially maintained its national support and still enjoys a healthy, if diminished, double-digit lead in Quebec.
Lavigne counted that as a huge achievement given the challenges the party has faced over the past five months: The untimely death of popular leader Jack Layton last August, the installation of rookie MP Turmel as interim leader and the loss of some of the party's most adept parliamentary performers, who gave up prominent roles in the NDP shadow cabinet in order to run for the leadership.
For her part, Turmel said the party has been doing a good job of holding the majority Conservative government to account and there's no need to do anything differently in the winter sitting of Parliament.
"We'll go on (with) what we did in the past, in the fall," she told reporters outside a caucus meeting aimed at plotting strategy for next week's resumption of Parliament.
Turmel shrugged off suggestions that she and her largely rookie caucus have been over-shadowed by the tiny Liberal caucus and its more polished, experienced interim leader, Bob Rae.
"I'm just back from Quebec. That's not what I hear in Quebec and everywhere it's the same. Our MPs are coming back from the Christmas period and then they are saying the same. They meet with their people in their riding and they're really happy what we are doing."
Turmel said New Democrat MPs will continue to focus on the needs of average families who are struggling to make ends meet. In particular, she said the NDP will be on the lookout for excessive program and service cuts in the next federal budget, will push Prime Minister Stephen Harper to consult with the provinces on health care funding and continue to demand action to combat poverty among First Nations.
The next budget will be the first for Harper since winning a majority last May. He no longer needs to court the support of any opposition party in order to ensure its passage.
But Turmel didn't see the need for a different approach to the coming budget, expected in February or March.
"We have in the past worked really hard to make sure that the budget is listened, that we fight for the Canadian families. So we'll do the same," she said.
"Just keep in mind, even in minority government, they were pushing forward their agenda. Now we want to make sure we push forward the agenda of Canadians. That's what we want to do."