Canada Parliament move eliminates Tory lead: poll

Wed Jan 13, 2010 4:25pm EST
 
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to suspend Parliament has cost his party its lead in public support, a poll released on Wednesday found.

The Strategic Counsel poll, published by the Toronto Star, showed Harper's Conservatives with 31 percent popular support and the opposition Liberals with 30 percent, which would make an election a toss-up if one were held today.

In October, as the population reacted adversely to a Liberal attempt to topple the minority Conservative government, Strategic Counsel had put the Conservatives 13 points ahead.

The Conservative lead had been falling after the Liberals abandoned their attempt to force an election but the sharpest decline in the lead came in the wake of Harper's decision to end the current session of Parliament.

The move is constitutional and has been done more than 100 times before. But the opposition accused Harper of trying to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of whether Canadian soldiers had turned over Afghan prisoners to likely torture at the hands of Afghan authorities in 2006-07.

Harper's rationale was that he wants to get a fresh start when Parliament reopens on March 3, and recalibrate the government's agenda to look ahead to growth from last year's focus on getting through the recession.

The poll, which used a mixture of online and phone surveys of 1,860 Canadians, found the left-of-center New Democratic Party with 18 percent support. Such a sample size is considered accurate to within 2.3 points, 19 times out of 20.

(Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Peter Galloway)