OTTAWA (Reuters) - In a speech to his caucus on Tuesday, Canadian Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff avoided talk of toppling the country’s minority Conservative government, suggesting Prime Minister Stephen Harper will hold on to power at least until yearend.
As Liberal lawmakers met to prepare for a new session of Parliament in September, Ignatieff told them he felt support for him growing after a summer bus tour aimed at boosting his flagging performance in the polls.
But he warned that the Liberals, the biggest opposition party, were not yet ready to face an election.
“We’ve got a great sense of momentum coming out of this summer. I feel the momentum, you feel the momentum,” Ignatieff said in the televised speech in Baddeck, Nova Scotia.
The party needs to do more fund-raising, raise its profile and attract voters from the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) and from the Green Party if it is going to defeat Harper, he said.
“Let’s take this thing one step at a time ... We are up against the toughest and most ruthless machine in Canadian politics. Never forget that for a second. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s do the job right.”
He was referring to Conservative campaign tactics that in the October 2008 election campaign obliterated Ignatieff’s Liberal predecessor, Stephane Dion, from the political map and gave Harper a strengthened minority.
Recent polls show the Liberals have gained little traction despite Ignatieff’s efforts. An Ekos poll in mid-August showed the Conservatives leading the Liberals 32.5 percent to 27.9 percent in popular support, a margin not big enough for the Conservatives to win a majority in Parliament.
Harper has said repeatedly that Canadians do not want an election and that he won’t be seeking one this autumn. Having a minority in Parliament means he needs the support of at least one of the three opposition parties.
The first major showdown between Harper and Ignatieff will come in a vote shortly after Parliament resumes in late September over the government’s proposal to scrap a controversial registry for rifles and other long guns.
The Liberals and Bloc Quebecois are expected to vote to keep the registry, which the Conservatives say is too costly and does not prevent crime. The NDP caucus is divided, reflecting opposition to the registry by hunters in rural areas.
But Ignatieff said his main focus will be the economy and helping middle-class Canadians, who he said were hurting from the tough economic times. He told a story of seniors he met on his bus tour who complained they couldn’t afford to buy even a muffin because their pensions were too small.
“That’s Canada, summer 2010, and we forget that fact at our peril,” Ignatieff said.
“In the weeks and months ahead we will lay out a more and more detailed program until by the time and election comes, when an election comes, Canadians will know exactly where we stand.”
Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Peter Galloway