October 8, 2009 / 1:16 PM / in 8 years

Ignatieff contrite after gloomy poll

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The leader of the Liberal Party on Thursday admitted he had a lot of work to do in the wake of a poll showing his movement would be crushed if an election were held now.

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 7, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

The weekly Ekos survey for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp put the ruling Conservatives at 39.7 percent support, up from 36.0 percent the week before. The Liberals were at 25.7 percent, down from 29.7 percent.

The poll indicates the Conservatives -- who won minority mandates in January 2006 and October 2008 elections -- would capture a majority government if a federal vote were held now.

The two parties were tied in support in early September, when Ignatieff said he would try to bring down the government on the grounds it was mishandling the economic crisis.

Since then a string of polls by different firms show the Conservatives have steadily gained public support while backing for the Liberals fell away.

“I have a lot of work to do -- that’s clear ... we’ve been taking some criticism. If there are things I need to do better I‘m certainly going to be ready to try,” a subdued Ignatieff told a televised news conference in London, Ontario.

“I‘m going to listen to Canadians and improve my performance in any way I can,” he said, stressing he would continue to oppose the government’s economic record.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper accuses Ignatieff of playing games -- a message that seems to have gained voter backing.

“This is a dramatic setback for the Liberal Party, not confined to any specific group or region. And it appears to be driven by a collapse in Michael Ignatieff’s popularity,” Ekos President Frank Graves said in a statement.

Under Canada’s first-past-the-post-electoral system -- where the candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins -- a party needs around 40 percent public support to capture a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons.

Polls also show a big majority of Canadians do not want an election now, a factor Graves said could harm Harper if he tried to provoke a federal vote now.

“It may be that the Liberals are suffering in part because they have branded themselves around holding an early election while the Conservatives have branded themselves around being stewards of the economy. And our research shows that the economy is the issue,” he said.

The poll marks a low point for Ignatieff, who took over the leadership of the Liberal party last December.

Ignatieff, who returned to Canada after spending 30 years abroad working as an academic and a journalist, admitted he had been harmed by Conservative adverts portraying him as an elite snob who was only interested in himself.

“There’s no question they’ve put a frame around me like this and ... I’ve got to lift that big frame off,” he said.

The Liberal leader has also lost ground by stressing a number of different topics -- such as the need for a more robust foreign policy and the importance of higher education -- at a time when most voters are focusing on the economy.

The Liberals unveiled a non-confidence motion in Parliament last week but the Conservatives survived when the left-leaning New Democrats abstained. Ekos put the New Democrats at 15.2 percent, up from 13.9 percent the week before.

The Ekos automated telephone survey of 2,830 adult voters was conducted between September 30 and October 6 and is considered accurate to within 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

($1=$1.06 Canadian)

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Frank McGurty

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