June 16, 2015 / 8:19 PM / in 2 years

Canada opposition Liberals seek to halt pre-election slide

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau shakes hands with Liberal candidates after making a policy announcement during an event in Ottawa, Canada, June 16, 2015.Chris Wattie

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's opposition Liberals, who have slipped from first to third place ahead of an October election amid questions over their tactics, on Tuesday unveiled a raft of new policies designed to boost their chances.

The Liberals held a healthy lead for more than 18 months after Justin Trudeau took over the party in 2013 and were favorites to end almost 10 years of Conservative rule.

But Trudeau has taken a lower profile in recent weeks amid attacks from the Conservatives and the resurgent opposition New Democrats, who compete with the Liberals for the same center-left segment of the electorate.

The New Democrats (NDP) leaped into the lead after unexpectedly winning a May election in the province of Alberta, a Conservative heartland.

Trudeau's announcement on Tuesday was his first high-profile policy announcement in weeks. His 32-point plan promises to give more independence to legislators, study voting reforms to boost turnout and reverse a move to end home mail delivery.

The Conservatives are already in full campaign mode and some Liberals have complained privately that Trudeau - the telegenic 43-year-old son of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau - is not selling his message actively enough.

Trudeau said Prime Minister Stephen Harper, seeking a rare fourth consecutive election win in October, had "turned Ottawa into a partisan swamp".

An Angus Reid survey released on Tuesday put the New Democrats with 36 percent support, the Conservatives at 33 percent and the Liberals trailing at 23 percent.

If repeated on election day, the poll suggests the Liberals could at best hope to become a junior partner in a coalition government.

That would be another humiliation for a party that has lost the last three elections and ended up in third place for the first time after the 2011 vote.

KICKING THE NDP'S TIRES

Trudeau did not respond on Tuesday when asked about the polls. But a senior Liberal strategist said the party's internal surveys showed the race was much tighter.

"(We) have it as a three-way tie, which is basically where we thought it was going to be," said the strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Ipsos Reid pollster John Wright said the rise of the New Democrats meant Trudeau needed to persuade Liberal supporters to stick with his party rather than switching.

"He completely has vanished ... it certainly isn't the right strategic move. We are in the run-up to a campaign," he said shortly before Trudeau's announcement.

The Liberal strategist said the rise of the New Democrats was no surprise, given that some voters who wanted Harper out did not have a particular party loyalty.

"(They) just saw the NDP get rid of a bunch of Alberta Conservatives ... so of course they're going to kick the NDP's tires," the strategist said.

Trudeau last week brushed off questions about his tactics, saying his party was hard at work selling itself to Canadians.

"Polls go up and down. We're very, very aware - and have always been - that there's an awful lot of work to do between now and the fall," he said on June 10.

"I'm very confident about the place we're in and the place we're going to be come October."

There is no talk of ditching Trudeau, who many Liberals see as their only hope.

Veteran legislator John McKay said the Liberals' ground organization was in much better shape than in the previous two elections but conceded the party had not communicated its ideas as well as it could.

"I think you have to do what the Conservatives do, which is repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat and 28 times later maybe somebody will say 'Oh, yeah' ... I think that is probably something we need to sharpen up on," he said.

Editing by Matthew Lewis

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