Liberals gain but still trail ruling Tories

Fri Jan 16, 2009 9:04am EST
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Liberal Party has gained some ground on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives, but still would lose if an election were held now, a poll released on Friday showed.

The Strategic Counsel poll published in the Globe and Mail puts the Conservatives ahead 36 percent to 29 percent, with the leftist New Democrats at 18 percent.

For the Liberals, this is a stark improvement from the 21-point gap in early December, when under a different leader they had teamed up with two other parties to try to replace the newly re-elected Conservatives with a coalition government.

The coalition idea fell flat with the electorate and led to the replacement of Liberal leader Stephane Dion with the more popular Michael Ignatieff, who says he will not automatically vote to topple Harper though he has kept the coalition alive.

Friday's polling data will weigh in his calculations as he decides whether to back the minority Conservative government when it presents its overall policy speech on January 26 and an economic stimulus budget on January 27.

The Strategic Counsel poll is at odds with a Nanos Research survey last week which put the Liberals ahead 34 percent to 33 percent, and more in line with an Ipsos Reid poll last week which had the Conservatives ahead 39 percent to 28 percent.

However, the Liberals have narrowed the gap on who is best to deal with the economy. Strategic Counsel found 38 percent pick the Liberals as the best managers against 40 percent for the Conservatives -- compared with a 12-point Conservative advantage during the campaign for the October election.

Strategic Counsel polled 1,000 Canadians from January 12-14. Such a sample size is considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

(Reporting by Randall Palmer, editing by Vicki Allen)

<p>Interim Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff speaks during a news conference in Ottawa December 10, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>