OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's opposition Liberals would win a big majority under new leader Justin Trudeau if an election were held now, according to a poll released on Thursday that showed the governing Conservatives continuing to struggle.
Although the next election is not due until October 2015, the Forum poll for the National Post shows Trudeau - son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau - has maintained his popularity since taking over the Liberal Party last month.
Forum put the Liberals at 44 percent support, one percentage point higher than in a poll done by the same firm in mid-April. The Conservatives, hit by an expenses scandal in the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, dropped three points to 27 percent.
The official opposition New Democrats (NDP), who pushed the Liberals into third place for the first time ever in the May 2011 election, rose one percentage point to 20 percent.
The Forum numbers would translate into the Liberals winning 192 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, instead of the 34 seats they won in the 2011 election.
Harper, who came to power in early 2006 promising more accountability in government, has been on the defensive since May 14, when news broke that his chief of staff had secretly given C$90,000 ($87,000) to a Conservative member of the Senate to cover expenses the senator had claimed improperly.
Harper told reporters on Wednesday that he was "very sorry" about the scandal, and insisted he had not known about the actions of his chief of staff, who has resigned. The senator, Mike Duffy, has left the Conservative caucus.
"Mr. Harper's very bad week has had a drastic effect on his approval and his party's. It doesn't help, when the Liberals are surging as they have been, to be stonewalling a controversy," Forum Research President Lorne Bozinoff told the Post.
In the last election both the Liberals and the NDP campaigned on higher corporate taxes and on a cap-and-trade system to curb carbon emissions, policies which the right-of-center Conservatives oppose.
Separately, a CROP poll taken in Quebec - the second most populous of Canada's 10 provinces - for Montreal's La Presse newspaper put the federal Liberals at 39 percent in popular support and the Conservatives at just 9 percent. The New Democrats, who took most of Quebec's seats in the 2011 election, were on 29 percent.
Forum's automated telephone poll of 1,779 people was taken on May 22 and 23. That sample size that should be accurate to within 2 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway