February 18, 2010 / 5:04 PM / in 8 years

Poll shows Conservatives, Liberals stalled

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada’s Liberals have failed to gain any ground on the Conservatives, despite discontent with the government’s decision to suspend Parliament until early March, according to a new poll.

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks to two Haitian girls as they wait for treatment at a Canadian medical clinic in Jacmel, Haiti, February 16, 2010. REUTERS/Fred Chartrand/Pool</p>

An Ekos opinion poll released on Thursday showed the Conservatives with 31.2 percent support, compared with 29 percent for the Liberals.

This is little changed from a similar poll released last week that showed the Conservative government with 31 percent and the main opposition Liberals at 29 percent.

Just four months ago, an Ekos poll showed the Conservatives with 40.7 percent and the Liberals with 25.5 percent, though support for the minority government has eroded since then and the two major parties are virtually tied.

“It is extremely unusual for no party to command even a third of the electorate over many weeks, which is the situation we have now,” said Ekos President Frank Graves.

“Though the Conservatives have tumbled from the low forties four months ago to the low thirties now, the Liberals have made much less impressive gains.”

The Conservative government has felt a public backlash over a late-December decision to shut down Parliament for a longer than usual holiday break until March, when it plans to introduce a new budget.

The Liberals charge that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying to hide from his critics, over issues such as the economy or Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan.

The latest poll showed that an even 41 percent said they were happy with the direction that the government was taking, compared with 48 percent that said that it was heading in the wrong direction.

However, the Liberals and leader Michael Ignatieff have not managed to capitalize on the Conservatives’ slide and build support among voters, who show little enthusiasm for an early election, Graves said.

“If Liberals thought they could win power simply by getting out of the way and allowing the Tories to decline, they may be proven wrong. They simply are not getting a large enough share of the voters fleeing the Conservatives to displace them as the leading party,” he said.

The poll showed the left-leaning New Democrats were the main beneficiaries of public support, rising to 16.5 percent from the previous survey’s 15.5 percent. Support for the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which fields candidates only in the French-speaking province of Quebec, fell to 8.8 percent from 10.3 percent.

The poll, conducted between Feb 10 and Feb 16, was based on 3,600 interviews. The margin of error is accurate within 3.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, Ekos said.

Reporting by Scott Anderson; editing by Rob Wilson

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