December 6, 2007 / 12:39 AM / in 10 years

Conservatives maintain lead despite inquiry

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s governing Conservatives have maintained a substantial lead in opinion polls over the main opposition Liberal Party, despite an inquiry into large cash payments to a former prime minister with ties to the government.

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands to speak in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 4, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

A Decima-Harris poll released late on Tuesday by the Canadian Press put the Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, at 36 percent and the Liberals at 28 percent, unchanged from two weeks earlier.

The leftist New Democratic Party slipped by one point to 16 percent.

The last few weeks have seen news of German-Canadian arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber having given cash payments of C$300,000, now worth $297,000, to former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1993-94.

None of the payments was made while he was prime minister, though one was made while he was still a member of Parliament. Schreiber told an inquiry the money was for “future services,” for Mulroney to promote a business to build light armored vehicles.

No charges of illegal activity have been leveled, but the idea of envelopes filled with cash changing hands in hotels -- an idea Mulroney now says was a colossal mistake -- has raised suspicions of wrongdoing.

Harper was in a different right-wing political party at the time of the cash payments, and was an opponent of Mulroney, but their two parties have since merged. Mulroney has informally advised Harper from time to time since he became prime minister, making the Schreiber news a source of embarrassment to the government.

Harper has announced a full public inquiry into the affair and a parliamentary committee is also holding an inquiry.

The Conservatives won the January 2006 election with 36 percent of the vote -- the same level as in Tuesday’s poll. The Liberals took 30 percent and the New Democrats 17.5 percent.

A recent poll by SES Research showed a much closer race, with only one point between the Conservatives and Liberals.

The Decima-Harris poll of just more than 1,000 Canadians was conducted November 29-December 2 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points 19 times in 20.

Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Rob Wilson

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