September 2, 2008 / 2:11 AM / in 9 years

Dion dismisses gloomy poll

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The leader of Canada’s main opposition Liberal Party dismissed a poll on Tuesday that showed he was headed for defeat in an election expected for next month, saying he was determined to win.

<p>Liberal leader Stephane Dion speaks to journalists after meeting with Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper at 24 Sussex Drive, Harper's official residence, in Ottawa September 1, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose Conservatives won a minority government in January 2006, is expected to request the dissolution of Parliament this week and call an election for October 14.

A Strategic Counsel poll for Tuesday’s Globe and Mail newspaper showed the Conservatives had the backing of 37 percent of voters, close to the 40 percent threshold that experts say gives them a strong chance of winning a majority.

“Polls are like surveys. They come and they go. What remains is our determination to win this election for Canadians,” Liberal leader Stephane Dion told reporters in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Strategic Counsel put the Liberals at 29 percent and the left-leaning New Democrats at 17. The environmentalist Greens polled 9 percent. Recent surveys by other polling companies showed the two top parties were tied.

The Liberals paint Harper as an extremist who follows the lead of U.S. President George W. Bush and who would drag Canada far to the right if he won a majority.

Senior Conservative politician Jason Kenney sought to minimize the idea that Harper could win a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, pointing to the number of parties contesting the election.

“It’s just about impossible in the present context for any party to form a majority government,” he told reporters.

Although the Liberals have kept the government in power by voting for or abstaining on many pieces of key legislation, the party’s patience with such tactics is wearing thin.

Harper, who says Parliament has become dysfunctional, met Dion on Monday and asked him to back the government until October 2009, the date set for the next election by legislation the Conservatives introduced.

Dion refused, accusing Harper of breaking the spirit of the fixed-date legislation by pushing for an election now. The Liberals say Harper wants to go to the polls before Canada feels the full effect of the U.S. economic slowdown.

“I think he’s panicking, I think he’s improvising ... it’s a very bad example to Canadians that Mr Harper is giving,” said the Liberal leader.

Dion has made the environment the main plank of his platform and will push the idea of what he says is a revenue-neutral carbon tax to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Harper says the tax would be a disaster.

The Strategic Counsel poll said 15 percent of voters felt the environment would be the most important issue in the forthcoming election compared with 20 percent who were most concerned by the slowing economy.

Strategic Counsel polled 1,000 voters for its survey. It says the results are accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 95 percent of the time.

With additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa and Janet Guttsman in Toronto; editing by Rob Wilson

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