A headline last week on the Global News site caught my attention because it captured the conventional wisdom of many of us in the media.
"Prime Minister Tom Mulcair? New seat projection, poll show NDP surging across Canada," it stated.
The story focused on an analysis by the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy.
Drawing on recent polls by the Angus Reid Institute, Ekos Research Associates, and Ipsos Reid, it projected the NDP winning 130 seats. That compared to 119 for the Conservatives, 86 for the Liberals, two for the Bloc Québécois, and one other.
There's a widespread belief that Conservative attack ads against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau have worked. And they've caused the anti–Stephen Harper vote to move to Mulcair.
Trudeau's problems are partially self-inflicted. His party's support for the Conservatives' antiterrorism legislation, Bill C-51, pushed many progressives back into the arms of the NDP.
In B.C., Trudeau's difficulties are compounded because some his key organizers and supporters are the same people who back Premier Christy Clark. And she's viewed with considerable disdain by many progressives across the province.
Despite this, it's still far too early to count out the Liberals.
Trudeau reaches out to mainstream
Just as the national media underestimated Trudeau before his charity boxing match with now-suspended senator Patrick Brazeau, the scribes risk making the same mistake with regard to the next election.
That's because part of Trudeau's appeal is that he often reflects the values of a majority of Canadians. In this respect, he's similar to his father Pierre, who was elected to lead four governments.
Trudeau Sr. knew that most Canadians didn't want a thoroughly weakened federal government. The premiers and federal Conservatives, on the other hand, were eager to dilute the authority of the central government when they agreed to the Meech Lake and Charlottetown constitutional accords.
Trudeau Sr. also recognized that most Canadians were not in favour of giving a voice to premiers in the selection of Supreme Court of Canada justices. Nor did most Canadians want limitations on federal spending powers in areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as health care and postsecondary education.
More importantly, Canadians wanted their rights protected against governments of all stripes, which is what Trudeau Sr.'s charter of rights accomplished. And the public appreciated his efforts near the end of his tenure to enhance North-South relations and promote peace between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
Nowadays, his son is in tune with most Canadians over legalizing marijuana and in opposing sending the armed forces to fight an endless war in the Middle East.
The Liberal leader's tough stance against Quebec's odious charter of values, his consistent opposition to Conservative Islamophobia, his uncompromising pro-choice stance, and his willingness to end the first-past-the-post electoral system also show he's in sync with the values of a vast number of Canadians.
NDP pleases soft Quebec nationalists
Meanwhile, the NDP under Mulcair will likely remain extremely sensitive to some Quebeckers' desire for further decentralization.
It's rooted in the belief among some Quebeckers that Trudeau Sr. double-crossed his home province in the "night of the long knives" in November 1981. That's when nine premiers agreed to his constitutional package in return for insertion of a "notwithstanding clause" to override the charter of rights.
Quebec's premier at the time, Rene Levesque, objected to elimination of a clause that would have allowed provinces to opt out of federal-provincial programs.
Levesque had previously given up on a Quebec veto over constitutional change many months earlier. That occurred when he joined a group of premiers supporting an amending formula allowing changes with the support of seven provinces representing 50 percent of the population.
In Quebec, the loss of the constitutional veto was seen as treachery on the part of Trudeau Sr. But the overall constitutional package played well in the rest of Canada, which still largely embraces the charter of rights.
Trudeau on the campaign trail
As the last provincial elections in Alberta, Ontario, and B.C. demonstrated, campaigns can make a huge difference.
An optimistic-sounding, charismatic, extroverted leader with a sense of humour can demolish dour, introverted opponents. If the candidate has policies that don't ruffle the electorate, his or her chances of winning increase even further.
If there's a mood to get rid of Harper after nearly 10 years in power, voters have two choices: Trudeau or Mulcair.
Mulcair has come across exceptionally well over the past year and he will remain a formidable opponent for Trudeau. Mulcair has an advantage right now with progressives for demonstrating character in opposing Bill C-51 when it was unpopular to do so.
But at the same time, the NDP leader has been far more cautious when it comes to electoral reform and the war on drugs—two bellwether issues for many younger voters. And if the Conservatives create a nasty ad campaign to stigmatize Mulcair as being soft on Quebec separatism, some progressive voters in English-speaking Canada may go back to the Liberals.
Trudeau's Liberals will also be a safer choice for Conservative voters who want to punish Harper.
That's because Liberals have traditionally been more supportive than the NDP of oilsands developments, foreign investment, and free-trade deals.
If the so-called Blue Liberals who loved former prime minister Paul Martin return to the fold, all bets are off in the next election.
And if that happens, the recent Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy seat count will look as ridiculous as that famous Chicago Daily Tribune headline in 1948 declaring "Dewey Defeats Truman".