OTTAWA (Reuters) - An early Canadian election is all but inevitable, the head of the opposition Bloc Quebecois said on Tuesday, despite the fact that the ruling Conservative Party has taken a lead in opinion polls.
“Chances of an election are extremely high,” Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe told reporters after a meeting of his separatist party’s caucus in Quebec City.
Two new polls suggest the Conservatives may have begun to break out of the tie they had maintained with the main opposition Liberal Party throughout the summer.
A Nanos survey to be released on Wednesday had the Conservatives leading by 4 percentage points, while a Strategic Counsel poll released on Tuesday had them up by 5 points.
To bring down the minority Conservative government would require all three opposition parties teaming up on a non-confidence vote.
The Liberals decided last week they would vote to topple the Conservatives at the first opportunity. The Conservatives, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, won last October’s general election with a strengthened minority, but still need the support of at least one opposition party in the House of Commons to remain in power.
If either the Bloc or the leftist New Democratic Party decides to work with the Conservatives, an election would be avoided. While both the Bloc and the NDP have expressed openness to working with Harper, no party appears willing to be the first to reach out.
“The ball is Harper’s court. So far he has kept it,” NDP spokesman Karl Belanger said.
Duceppe declared: “Mr. Harper is not a man of compromise or consensus ... He is intransigent.”
Though no campaign is officially under way, the Bloc released ads on Tuesday and the Liberals issued their first set on Sunday.
All opposition parties have demanded the government ease access to jobless benefits because of the economic slowdown. The government said on Monday it would be introducing measures soon to help long-tenured workers who have lost their jobs, but it was not clear that this would win any opposition support.
An election could be held in late October or early November if nobody backs down.
The Nanos poll put the Conservatives at 37.5 percent of committed voters and the Liberals at 33.4 percent. A month earlier it had the Liberals ahead by 2.5 points.
It put the NDP at 14.8 percent, the Bloc at 9.7 percent and the Greens at 4.6 percent. However, it found one in four voters were now undecided, up from one out of six.
Strategic Counsel had the Conservatives at 35 percent support, the Liberals at 30 percent, the NDP at 14 percent and the Bloc at 12 percent.
Neither of the two main parties is close to the 40 percent mark in popular support that would likely be needed to win a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons.
Nanos surveyed 1,003 Canadians from August 28 to September 3, and Strategic Counsel polled 1,000 from September 3-6. Both polls carry an margin of error of 3.1 points 19 times out of 20.
Editing by Rob Wilson