OTTAWA (Reuters) - In what a pollster called a "stunning turnaround," Canada's ruling Conservatives are now barely ahead of the opposition Liberals three months after having enjoyed a 15-point lead.
Thursday's Ekos survey echoed the results of another poll released on Wednesday which found that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to have Parliament suspended temporarily was ill-received by the electorate.
"Canadians have noticed, they do care and this having a very negative effect on Conservative fortunes," Ekos President Frank Graves said in a statement, calling the change from three months ago "stunning."
Ekos has the Conservatives at 30.9 percent and the Liberals at 29.3 percent, roughly where they were last summer and a level which would make victory uncertain for Harper if an election were held now.
The smaller, leftist New Democratic Party polled 15.3 percent and the Greens, which have no seats in Parliament, had 11.9 percent. The separatist Bloc Quebecois stood at 10.2 percent. The automated telephone survey taken from January 6-12, covered 3,730 Canadians. The margin of error was plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.
A Strategic Counsel online/phone poll on Wednesday had the Conservatives ahead 31 percent to 30 percent.
An election is not expected any time soon. Harper has made it clear he does not want to call a vote, and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff says he has learned his lesson after trying to force an election in October. It was then that the Conservatives vaulted to 15 points ahead of the Liberals.
But the polls have to be unsettling for Harper, who arranged for the delay of Parliament's return from the Christmas break to March 3 from January 25.
He said he wanted to start a fresh session looking ahead to growth rather than back at recession, and the move is constitutional, but the opposition said he was trying to hide.
Forty-seven percent in the Ekos poll said the government was headed in the wrong direction, 40 percent the right direction.
Harper, reelected in October 2008, does not command a parliamentary majority and has to rely on the support of at least one opposition party to stay in power.
Graves said one silver lining for the Conservatives was that the Liberals remained below 30 percent, well below where they had polled for many years.
"The movements in public opinion seem to be driven more by repulsion to Conservative tactics than attraction to Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberal Party," he said.
Editing by Alan Elsner