January 21, 2009 / 3:10 PM / in 9 years

Liberals gain support under new leader: poll

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Liberal Party, the largest opposition party in Canada’s parliament, has gained popular support under its new leader, Michael Ignatieff, according to a poll released by the Globe and Mail newspaper on Wednesday.

<p>Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff speaks during an interview with Reuters at Stornoway, his official residence, in Ottawa January 20, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

The Ekos/Globe and Mail poll shows a majority of Canadians hold a negative view of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, while Ignatieff was seen as the best leader to work with the new U.S. President Barack Obama.

Of the 1,000 people polled, 55 percent disapproved of Harper’s handling of his responsibilities, while 35 percent approved.

The poll was conducted January 15 to 17, and had a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, Ekos told Reuters.

Ignatieff has been Liberal leader since December 10, taking over from Stephane Dion, who sparked a political crisis last month by calling for a vote of confidence in Harper’s economic policies. Harper subsequently had Parliament suspended.

As part of the deal to bring down Harper last month, the Liberals signed a coalition agreement with the minority New Democrats. The two proposed to govern with the support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, an idea that proved highly unpopular with many Canadians and boosted Harper’s poll numbers.

Ignatieff has the approval of 44 percent of respondents and is seen negatively by 21 percent, the poll showed.

Yet, the Conservative Party continues to lead in overall voting intentions in Canada, with the support of 36.2 percent of respondents, compared with the Liberals at 32.6 percent and the NDP at 14.3 percent, the poll found.

The Conservative government will present its budget on January 27, a day after Parliament reconvenes. It needs Liberal support to pass it.

On Tuesday, Ignatieff said he is trying to cool tempers ahead of next week’s budget, but made it clear he is prepared to topple the minority Conservative government over the budget if necessary.

Ignatieff has toned down his party’s combative line, stressing Canadians want action on the financial crisis. Harper has also sounded more conciliatory of late.

“I believe -- and I think the country has responded well to this -- that we needed to lower the temperature, we just needed to calm down. Canadians were really angry before Christmas,” Ignatieff told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

The new poll showed 50 percent of respondents favor a coalition government, while 43 percent are happier with the current Conservative government.

But the numbers also show that many Canadians are still waiting to make up their minds about the new Liberal Leader, with 35 percent of respondents refusing to offer an assessment.

Reporting by Alden Bentley; editing by Peter Galloway

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