Martin's Liberals have again hit a ceiling in a national opinion poll, failing to break through the magic 40-per-cent mark that would give them a majority government.
The latest Globe and Mail/CTV poll by Ipsos-Reid shows the Liberals at 39 per cent, down a percentage point from an earlier poll in October, but still well ahead of their Conservative rivals, who are at 26 per cent nationally, up one point from the October survey.
Ipsos-Reid public affairs president Darrell Bricker says it would be too dicey for Mr. Martin to call an election now.
"The Liberals have found their new normal for them, which is in the range of 40 per cent," Mr. Bricker said.
"Things have stabilized. It shows they haven't really taken off with Canadians . . . everything is still pretty much stuck in a minority environment.
"Unless they can get some momentum going, and it appears right now that they don't have any, it's pretty risky [to call an election]."
This is where they were when Mr. Martin called the election last spring.
Mr. Martin's top political adviser, David Herle, stunned many Liberals last weekend when he told them the Prime Minister called the election knowing he was going to lose his majority government.
"The Prime Minister called the election knowing he was going to get a minority, although there was a possibility of a majority," a senior Liberal quoted Mr. Herle, an Ottawa pollster and co-chairman of the national Liberal campaign, as saying.
He was speaking during a private session on Saturday at a convention of federal Ontario Liberals in Niagara Falls.
One senior Liberal criticized the strategy, saying that a leader doesn't call an election knowing he or she can't form a majority government.
"Who in their right mind would call an election knowing they're not to going to win? It tells you a lot about his [the Prime Minister's] judgment," the Liberal said.
". . . It's sort of like saying we knew we were not going to win but we went [ahead] anyway."
The latest Ipsos-Reid poll, conducted between Oct. 26 and 28, has the NDP at 16 per cent -- also down a point -- and the Bloc Québécois unchanged at 9 per cent from the October survey.
The poll shows the Liberals have their highest support in Atlantic Canada at 47 per cent, down seven points, and are up three points in Ontario, at 45 per cent. They are also up by three points to 41 per cent in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In British Columbia, the Liberals have 27-per-cent support, down 14 points, and in Alberta they are at 23 per cent, down seven points.
Ipsos-Reid conducted 1,001 telephone interviews; the results are accurate within 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
The poll shows that the Liberals are practically tied with the Bloc Québécois in Quebec. The BQ has 36 per cent while the Liberals are at 38 per cent, down a point from the previous poll.
At a weekend session on the spring election, Mr. Herle showed charts of his internal polling from the campaign and noted that the Conservatives under Stephen Harper would have formed a minority government had June 14 been the voting day instead of June 28, according to an insider.
Some Liberal MPs and candidates -- especially in Ontario -- viewed Mr. Herle with skepticism, saying he ran a campaign that took the party to the brink and back up again to win at least a minority government.
The Prime Minister, however, recently reconfirmed him as the co-chairman of the next Liberal election bid.
Mr. Herle, who participated in the Saturday session with two other senior Martin strategists, Michele Cadario and Karl Littler, also said the English-language debate helped to turn things around as did a series of negative ads that ran in the last couple of weeks.