Conservatives see poll lead evaporate

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Conservative government has seen its lead over the main opposition Liberals evaporate in public opinion polls following recent controversies and the two parties are now running neck and neck, though an election is not seen in the near term.

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper pauses while speaking during a Conservative caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa August 5, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

The Conservatives, who have only a minority of seats in Parliament and need support from at least one other party to stay in power, fell to 33.3 percent support from 35.6 percent, according to the poll by Nanos Research released on Wednesday.

The Liberals were at 32.8 percent, up from 29.2 percent, in the monthly survey conducted for the Globe and Mail newspaper and CTV.

Neither party was in position to win an election if one were held now, and pollster Nik Nanos said an autumn election call would be unlikely after Parliament returns from its summer break on September 20.

“Overall, although election speculation may be on the rise because of the tightened ballot numbers, it is most likely that, tough talk from the leaders aside, an election at this time would be risky for both the Conservatives and the Liberals,” Nanos said in a statement.

Under Canada’s electoral system, a party usually needs at least 40 percent public support to capture a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, and around 36 percent to form a workable minority government.

Nanos said that the change in the numbers was due mainly to “self inflicted damage” by the Conservatives.

The summer is normally a quiet time in Canadian politics, but the government’s decision this summer to scrap a mandatory long-form census has raised the ire of a raft of interest groups that say they need the data to make policy decisions.

Other issues in the coming session of Parliament that could provoke a showdown include the budget deficit, gun control, anti-crime legislation and above all, the economy.

Another poll released on Wednesday, by Harris Decima for the Canadian Press, gave the Conservatives a three-point lead over the Liberals, at 33 percent to 30 percent.

It showed a marked loss of support for the Conservatives among female voters.

The results of a survey released last week by Ekos showed the two main parties in a dead heat.

Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff have said in recent weeks that they do not want an autumn election.

The Nanos telephone survey of 1,014 Canadians was conducted between August 28 and September 3 and is considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The Harris Decima telephone poll of 2,019 adults was conducted between August 26 and September 5 and is considered accurate within a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Reporting by John McCrank; editing by Peter Galloway