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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's governing Conservatives are maintaining a strong lead in public support following an ill-fated attempt by the opposition Liberals to force an early election, an Ekos poll issued on Thursday said.
"This is not a blip," Ekos President Frank Graves said in a statement, noting that it was the fourth straight week in which the Conservatives are showing a double-digit lead.
"The Tories streaked into their current lead when the Liberals started threatening an early election in (September)," Graves said. "However, they are now standing up despite negative news reports about the distribution of stimulus money and the confusion around the H1N1 vaccination program."
The Conservative lead widened slightly to 11.6 points from 11.2 points in an Ekos poll a week earlier. But it was down from the 15.2 point edge they had two weeks ago.
Graves said the data did not mean the Conservatives could not be knocked off their pedestal. "However, it does mean the other parties have their work cut out for them."
For most of the summer the Liberals had been roughly tied with the Conservatives but then fell sharply behind when Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff decided to try to bring the minority Conservative government down, just as an economic recovery was starting.
On Tuesday, Ignatieff dismissed his friend Ian Davey as chief of staff after just two months in that post. He did not give a reason, but Davey was an election hawk.
He has replaced Davey with affable Liberal communications guru Peter Donolo, who helped the Liberals under Jean Chretien win a majority government in 1993 and get re-elected in 1997.
There was no word whether Donolo might be more cautious about pressing for an election from so far behind in the polls, but his attention will almost certainly be diverted for the next few weeks as he tries to rebuild Ignatieff's staff.
The Conservatives got an extra boost in early October when Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave a surprise vocal and piano performance of a Beatles song with renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma at a National Arts Center gala in Ottawa.
But they have taken a hit in the past two weeks from accusations of playing partisan politics with government stimulus programs, with the Liberals and media critics saying the money has disproportionately gone to Conservative electoral districts.
That has cut into their lead by a few points in Ekos surveys though two other polls this week showed the Conservatives with leads of 12 and 15 points.
The Ekos poll put the Conservatives at 38.4 percent support, the Liberals at 26.8 percent, the left-leaning New Democrats at 16.7 percent, the Greens at 9.9 percent, and the separatist Bloc Quebecois at 8.2 percent.
The Conservatives were re-elected a year ago with a strengthened minority of seats in the House of Commons, but they still require at least one opposition party's co-operation to stay in power.
The current poll results would seem likely to translate into another minority Conservative government though a majority could be within reach.
The automated telephone survey of 3,220 was conducted October 21-27 and carries a margin of error of 1.7 percentage points 19 times out of 20, Ekos said.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Peter Galloway