TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's Conservatives have virtually lost their lead over the opposition Liberals, according to a poll showing support for the ruling party below 30 percent for the first time since late 2006.
The Ekos survey for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, released on Thursday, put the Conservatives at 29.7 percent in popular support, down from 32.2 percent in the previous reading.
That puts the party in a statistical draw with the Liberals, who rose to 28.5 percent from 26.4 percent. The main opposition party has been out of power since early 2006.
The Ekos poll is considered accurate to within 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Under Canada's electoral system, a party normally needs at least 40 percent support to capture a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons. A party would need around 36 percent -- or about a 10-point lead over its nearest rival -- to win a workable minority.
The summer is normally a quiet time in Ottawa, with the House of Commons is on a three-month break, but an unlikely issues seems to have caught the attention of Canadians.
There has been a political firestorm surrounding the government's plan to change next year's census.
The country's chief statistician resigned in protest over the move a couple weeks ago, prompting a national debate over how statistics are collected.
That has pitted the Conservatives against groups ranging from the businesses community, to social services organizations and local governments.
Even the Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney was drawn into the debate, saying the central bank will monitor what impact the census changes might have on data that it uses from Statistics Canada.
The Ekos automated telephone survey of 3,444 people was conducted between July 21 and July 3.
Reporting by John McCrank; Editing by Frank McGurty