OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's main opposition Liberals dismissed a report on Wednesday that they are discussing a merger with a smaller party to increase their chances of defeating the minority Conservative government.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp said some Liberals, alarmed by how poorly they are faring in opinion polls under leader Michael Ignatieff, have quietly sounded out the left-leaning New Democratic Party to talk about a possible merger.
"No one has any authorization to even discuss this matter. It's ridiculous," Ignatieff told reporters, blaming what he called rumor-mongering for the story.
New Democrat leader Jack Layton dismissed the idea of a merger as a "fiction".
Polls show that the centrist Liberals, who lost power to the Conservatives in early 2006, regularly trail the governing party by five or six percentage points.
There are also mutterings within the party about the less than sparkling performance by Ignatieff, who had spent much of his life as a broadcaster and academic before taking over as leader in December 2008.
The Conservatives, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, won a strengthened minority in the October 2008 election and currently hold 144 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons. The Liberals have 77 and the New Democrats -- who have never held power federally -- have 36.
Political mergers are not unknown in Canada. The Conservatives were created in December 2003 when the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance parties joined forces.
That merger was more of a family reunion, since the forerunner to the Canadian Alliance had broken away from the Progressive Conservatives more than a decade earlier.
The Liberals, on the other hand, have governed Canada for longer than any other party, while the New Democrats were created almost 50 years ago.
The two parties had an informal power-sharing deal between 1972 and 1974, when the Liberals formed a minority government.
Ignatieff raised eyebrows over the weekend when he said that a coalition between the Liberals and New Democrats would be perfectly legitimate after the next election. Critics said his remarks were premature.
Liberal John McCallum acknowledged Ignatieff was not doing well but noted that Harper and former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien had both had trouble when in opposition.
"It's not surprising that, from time to time, opposition leaders have problems. It's not a reason to abandon the Liberal Party," McCallum told reporters.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson