Greg Lyle, a pollster at Innovative Research, said the traditionally centrist party successfully tapped into many of the voters that had abandoned them over the last three elections. The party is now running neck-and-neck with the incumbent Conservative Party, if not slightly ahead according to some polls.
“What continued for the Liberals, despite poor election results, was that they retained a really strong emotional connection with a large group of Canadians,” Lyle said. “The job of the Liberals this campaign was to bring those defecting Liberals home.”
The Conservative Party, meanwhile, appears to be left increasingly with just the support of their core voter base, roughly 30% of the population.
“The Liberals are fishing from a much, much larger pool than the Tories,” Lyle said.
The Liberals are betting that their campaign’s defining message of change will trump the Conservatives, who have been urging voters to “protect the economy” at all costs, and stay on the course set by their electoral victory in 2006.
Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, currently the longest serving leader in the G7 barring German chancellor Angela Merkel, has tried to persuade voters that a win for either of the opposition parties – the Liberals or the left-leaning New Democrats – would threaten Canada’s economy and national security.
It is a pitch that resonated with the Grays, a couple who were casting their ballots at the advanced polls Sunday over the long Canadian Thanksgiving weekend – a holiday celebrated about a month before the American equivalent – in Milton, Ontario, a fast-growing bedroom community outside Toronto.
“We have a small business and the Conservatives have been been very good for us, tax-wise,” said Dave Gray, 65.
Barb Gray, 62, added: “The biggest thing too is keeping us safe in our country. Keeping a close watch on terrorists trying to get into Canada, that’s a big issue with us. We have to be very careful and I think sometimes the Liberals are a little lax on things like that.”
Al Bell, 74, who also said he voted Conservative, put it more succinctly: “I figured, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
National polls have indicated a statistical tie between the Conservatives, Liberals and the New Democrats for much of the race. But over the last couple of weeks, pollsters have suggested either an emerging two-way race between the Conservatives and the Liberals, or the Liberals pulling slightly ahead. The New Democrats, who had started the campaign with a lead on the Liberals in key regions of the country, are now trailing in third place.
Liberal candidate Navdeep Bains, who is running again after losing his seat in the 2011 federal election after the Conservatives swept the vote, said he sees the progressive vote coalescing back around the Liberals and their youthful leader Justin Trudeau, 43, the son of former Canadian Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
“People are not happy with the status quo, they’re not happy with Mr Harper and his divisive politics. They really want change,” Bains said.
“They see that Mr Trudeau and the Liberal Party represent that change.”
A Nanos poll published Monday had the Liberals at 35.7% nationally followed by the Conservatives at 28.9%, and the New Democratic Party at 24.3%. Poll aggregator TooCloseToCall has the Liberals at 33.9%, the Conservatives at 33.2% and the New Democrats at 23.3%.
Both results point to a likely minority government for whichever party wins when Canadians go to the polls on 19 October.