OTTAWA (Reuters) - The slide in the polls for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives has been so steep as voters worry about the economy that the possibility of his losing the upcoming Canadian election is now being raised.
The Conservatives have led in the polls throughout the short campaign for the October 14 election and are still ahead but the momentum generally moved against them this month as near panic struck stocks and gloomy headlines dominated the news.
Political strategist Rick Anderson said Harper is being hit by perceptions he has failed to act to prevent credit-crisis contagion from damaging Canada.
“This nonengagement on his and the public’s primary issue is hurting him badly, threatening not just that sought majority (in Parliament) but unless he gets on top of this, conceivably even re-election,” Anderson said.
Two polls on Tuesday put the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals by just 3 to 5 percentage points, less than half the 10 to 15 points seen in the first half of the campaign. A third poll on Tuesday night showed a slight recovery for the Conservatives, to a 9-point lead.
Harper, who admitted on Tuesday to not being “emotionally expressive,” maintains Canada’s banks and households are in good shape, affected, but not paralyzed, by the crisis that has swallowed homes and banks in the United States and elsewhere.
His government has been in regular contact with the central bank, the banks and the regulatory agency that oversees the banks, and he said on Tuesday the government would probably take new steps this week to alleviate the credit crunch.
Harper, who won the January 2006 election with a minority of seats, had taken an early lead in the polls on the strength of his pitch that a steady hand was needed for uncertain economic times, but that was before markets started plunging.
Liberal leader Stephane Dion and New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton have hammered Harper, criticizing him for being inactive at a time of crisis.
“Conservatives do nothing to prepare a country because they don’t believe in the role of the government to help the people and to help the market economy,” Dion said on Tuesday.
Feeling the heat, Harper said the government had foreseen trouble and had cut taxes, taken action on mortgages and strengthened the Bank of Canada’s ability to act.
“Due to these actions, we are not in a position of having to bail out our financial sector,” Harper said in a speech,
“So when some wonder in the wake of recent events why we haven’t thrown together a new plan, the reply of course is that the plan on which we have acted is a plan. In fact the very reason we call it a plan is because action is planned before it is needed ... This government is not going to panic.”
A three-day Ekos poll which partly included opinion gathered during Tuesday put the Conservatives at 34 percent, the Liberals at 25 percent and the NDP at 20 percent. On Monday night Ekos had shown Conservatives with a 7-point lead.
Nanos put the Conservatives at 34 percent, the Liberals at 31 and the NDP at 18, the tightest margin in weeks. A Harris-Decima/Canadian Press poll had the Conservatives at 31 percent, the Liberals at 26 percent and the NDP at 21.
Ekos covered Sunday through Tuesday, Nanos Saturday through Monday and Harris-Decima covered Friday through Monday.
Ekos surveyed 2,807 decided voters, with a 1.8-point margin of error 19 times out of 20. Harris-Decima interviewed 1,251 people with a 2.8-point margin of error and Nanos covered 1,020 committed voters with a 3.1-point margin.
Editing by Peter Galloway and Mohammad Zargham