Sunday, December 11, 2005

Canada's Liberals retain lead in run-up to debates

Canada's Liberals retain lead in run-up to debates
OTTAWA (Reuters) - One quarter of Canada's election campaign is now over, and the opposition Conservatives have not yet been able to shake the lead of Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberals in most surveys.

Polls published on Saturday showed broadly similar results to those just before the government was toppled on November 28 after an official report detailed kickbacks from government contracts which were illegally used in Liberal campaigns.

Some focus will now be on debates next Thursday and Friday and on January 9-10. Conservative leader Stephen Harper boosted his poll standings in the debates in campaign for the June 2004 election, though Martin recovered and was able to stay in office.

So far the Conservatives and Liberals have played a largely positive campaign, not talking predominantly about the kickback scandal. But analysts believe the gloves could come off after the Christmas and New Year's break, in the final stretch to the January 23 election.

A rolling Strategic Counsel poll for the Globe and Mail and CTV put the Liberals at 36 percent, the Conservatives at 28 percent and the leftist New Democrats at 16 percent. On Friday, it showed 36 percent Liberal, 30 percent Conservative and 15 percent New Democrat.

An Ipsos-Reid poll for CanWest newspapers had only a four-point Liberal lead, up from a two-point lead in its previous survey. Ipsos put the Liberals at 34 percent, the Conservatives at 30 percent and the New Democrats at 16 percent.

In Quebec, the second most populous province, Ipsos gave the separatist Bloc Quebecois a crushing lead of 55 percent to the Liberals' 26 percent.

Neither survey would give the Liberals a majority in Parliament. That normally requires at least 40 percent in popular support.

However, another tracking poll released by SES on Friday put the Liberals at 41 percent to 26 percent for the Conservatives.

Both the Ipsos and Strategic Counsel polls were taken December 6-8. Strategic Counsel surveyed 1,500 people, which should give a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20. The Ipsos survey was of 1,000 people, which carries a 3.1-point margin of error."

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