Conservatives widen opinion poll lead

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Conservatives widened their lead over the Liberals in a new opinion poll released on Tuesday, but the party does not have enough support to win a majority government.

Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper (R) shakes hands with Conservative Party supporters after his speech at the Croatian Parish Park in Mississauga August 18, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Cassese

The Ipsos Reid poll of 1,007 Canadian voters showed the Conservatives with the support of 36 percent of the electorate, up from 34 percent in an August 1 survey. Support for the Liberals was unchanged at 30 percent.

But results of the survey will give little comfort to either party ahead of special elections in four Parliamentary districts next month that are widely viewed as a key test of public support.

Under Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system, parties usually need at least 40 percent support to win a majority government.

The Conservatives have only a minority of seats in Parliament, and the Liberals have been keeping them in power, mostly by abstaining on key legislation.

Speculation has been rising about a fall 2008 election, roughly one year ahead of schedule. The government complains that Parliament is no longer able to function productively, and the opposition appears increasingly willing to try to force the government out.

“Canadians appear to be warming to the idea of a election,” the pollsters said in a statement.

“While in the spring only 27 percent of Canadians wanted an election, currently four in 10 are of the opinion that ‘we really need an election to clear the air’.”

The survey showed support for the New Democratic Party was unchanged at 14 percent, while the Green party polled 10 percent, down from 11 percent.

The Greens have no seats in the Canadian Parliament.

Ipsos Reid considers its survey accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Reporting by Janet Guttsman; Editing by Scott Anderson