Canadian poll gives Liberals lead over ruling party

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian voters prefer the opposition Liberals over the ruling Conservatives, according to a new poll, a sign of discontent with the prime minister’s decision to suspend Parliament until after the Olympics.

In a poll conducted by Environics and released on its website ( late on Friday, the opposition Liberals picked up support from 37 percent of decided voters, compared with 33 percent for the Conservatives.

The ruling party dropped 4 percentage points since the firm’s previous poll in December. Since then, Prime Minister Stephen Harper shut down Parliament until March, when the government will introduce its budget. The Liberals contend that Harper is hiding from his critics.

Recent polls suggest that no party is a clear favorite among Canadian voters, who returned Harper’s minority government to power in late 2008.

An Ekos survey late last month gave the Liberals their first lead since the summer, when the opposition party’s vow to seek fresh elections appeared to turn off the electorate. But the Tories regained a slim lead in two subsequent polls.

In the Environics survey on Friday, the left-leaning New Democrats also slipped, dropping to 13 percent, while the Green Party garnered the support of 9 percent of voters.

Bloc Quebecois, a separatist party that fields candidates only in Quebec, took 8 percent, which translates into 36 percent support in the French-speaking province. That would put the Bloc in a virtual dead heat with the Liberals there.

The Environics poll was based on 958 telephone interviews with a random sample of eligible voters. It is accurate within 3.2 percentage points, 19 out of 20 times.

Reporting by Frank McGurty, Editing by Sandra Maler