Liberals take first poll lead since July

Thu Jan 28, 2010 12:08pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The opposition Liberal Party has pulled narrowly ahead of the governing Conservatives in public support for the first time since last July, according to an opinion poll released on Thursday.

The Ekos survey put the Liberals at 31.6 percent support, up from the 30.9 percent in a poll done by the same firm last week. The Conservatives slipped to 31.1 percent from 31.5 percent while the left-leaning New Democrats slid to 14.6 percent from 14.9 percent.

The results indicate the most likely result of an election now would be deadlock, since a party needs around 36 percent of the vote to win a workable minority in the House of Commons.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose Conservatives won a strengthened minority in the October 2008 election, says Canadians do not want a national vote now. He came to power after the January 2006 election.

The poll -- the latest to show the two main parties almost tied -- also means it is very unlikely Harper will try to engineer the defeat of his government in Parliament over the next budget, due on March 4, in order to force an election.

The poll marks a notable recovery for the Liberals, who dropped 15 points behind after threatening in September to bring down the government over its handling of the economy.

The Conservative lead quickly vanished after Harper moved to have Parliament suspended until March 3, a tactic which his opponents branded as anti-democratic. Parliament should have resumed business on January 25.

"Despite considerable initial confusion over whether the government's problems were ephemeral or structural the evidence is that there has been a significant shift," said Frank Graves, president of Ekos.   Continued...

<p>Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff delivers a speech during the Liberal winter caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa January 20, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>