VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canada's Liberal Party, which has been climbing in recent opinion polls, is also regaining its financial footing and the political unity it needs to fight a new election, leader Michael Ignatieff said on Thursday.
But Ignatieff added he was still in no rush to force an election so soon after last October's vote, and told party activists they still had hard work to do to regain the Liberals' standing as a "national institution" that could elect candidates in all parts of the country..
"We have a unified party. We have a party out of debt. And we have a party basically ready to fight an election," he told reporters in Vancouver at the start of the Liberal's Party national convention.
The Liberals are expecting about 1,500 delegates in Vancouver for the three-day gathering. Organizers have billed it as a "renewal" event and a chance for party members from across the country to meet Ignatieff, who has led them on an interim basis since late last year.
The delegates are all but certain to elect Ignatieff as permanent leader on Saturday.
A well-known author, broadcaster and historian who has spent most of his adult life outside of Canada, Ignatieff was picked by Liberal legislators in December to replace struggling leader Stephane Dion.
Dion led the Liberals to a poor showing in the October 14 election and suffered miscues during the November parliamentary crisis that saw the Liberals, New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebecois nearly bring down the minority Conservatives of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Ignatieff, who is more centrist than Dion, ended the coalition and allowed the Conservatives to survive while he tried to rebuild popular support and the party's finances.
He told reporters on Thursday the message he is hearing from voters is that they are still not in the mood for another election -- which would be the fourth in five years -- the same explanation he gave when the Liberals agreed to support the Conservatives' last budget.
Polls indicate the strategy may be working. The Liberals have taken a narrow lead over the Conservatives nationally and over the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec, the only province where the separatist party fields candidates.
Ignatieff also said the party raised twice as much money in the first quarter of this year as it did in the same period last year. In fact, in all of 2008 it was able to raise a total of only C$6.2 million ($5.2 million), far short of the C$21.2 million raised by the Conservatives.
"The financial picture for the Liberal Party is very significantly improved, and the other parties should take note," he told reporters.
Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson