OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Conservatives have rebuilt a small lead in popular support, a poll showed on Thursday, making it more likely that the government will survive confidence votes in Parliament next month.
The Conservatives had slipped slightly behind the Liberals, the biggest opposition party, in late January after Prime Minister Stephen Harper arranged for the suspension of Parliament until after the Vancouver Olympics.
When the Liberals squeaked ahead in polls last month, they said they had no intention of trying to bring the government down in Parliament and force an early election. The shift in the new Ekos poll results is likely to make the Liberals even more cautious.
“The shift, though small, puts the Conservatives back in comfortable minority-government territory if an election were held,” Ekos said in a statement.
The poll put the Conservatives at 33.4 percent support, up more than two percentage points from a week earlier, and the Liberals at 30.3 percent, up more than a point.
The left-leaning New Democrats were at 15.8 percent and the separatist Bloc Quebecois at 8.2 percent. The Green Party, which has no seats in Parliament, stood at 10.4 percent.
Harper’s government will unveil its new legislative agenda next Wednesday and its annual budget on Thursday. Both are subject to confidence votes, and in the unlikely event that they fail, an election would be expected to be triggered.
The Conservatives were reelected with a minority government in October 2008. Canada has had minority governments since 2004.
They built a 15-point lead in the polls in the autumn after the Liberals tried to bring them down. That lead began to dissipate when the Liberals backed down, and diminished further with criticism of the way Afghan detainees were treated by the Canadian military in 2006-07. The lead evaporated completely when Harper had Parliament suspended.
Ekos’s automated telephone survey of 2,953 Canadians was conducted Feb 17-23. The sample size of 2,594 decided voters is considered accurate to within 1.9 points 19 times out of 20.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Peter Galloway