Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Canada's Liberals Possibly Headed For Third-Place Finish

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="314" caption="Canadian Liberal leader Stephane Dion"][/caption]

OTTAWA (AFP) — Canada's once-mighty Liberals risk finishing in third place in a hotly ideological election, behind the ruling Conservatives and the leftist New Democrats, according to the latest poll Tuesday.

The Liberals ruled Canada for most of the past century but were relegated to the role of official opposition in 2006.

In the first weeks of this campaign, support for the Liberal Party dropped to 23 percent while the lesser New Democrats saw a revival at 19 percent, said polling firm Ekos.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives meanwhile are now daring to dream of their first majority in Parliament, leading far ahead in public opinion with 38 percent.

The latest tracking "shows a dramatic tightening in the race for second spot, with the New Democrats now within striking distance of overtaking the Liberals," said Ekos president Frank Graves.

"Although it is clear that the Liberals retain a small edge, on some days the difference is within the margin of error," he said.

In other surveys, the Liberal Party scored better, but in all polling their leader Stephane Dion trailed New Democrat Party leader Jack Layton by a few points and far behind Harper in respondents' choice for prime minister.

"These trends only need to continue another few days for the NDP to pass the Liberals," commented Graves.

Such would be a humiliating defeat for the Liberals trying desperately to rebuild following a devastating scandal that ended 12 consecutive years in power and helped elect Harper's minority Conservatives in January 2006.

"If the alarm bells are not ringing already at Liberal headquarters, they should now," said Graves. "Jack Layton is simply connecting better with voters than Stephane Dion at this stage of the campaign."

Indeed, Dion has struggled to sell voters on his key election plank -- an environmental plan to introduce a carbon tax that Harper claims would add undue stress on a shaky economy.

Lacking charisma and handicapped by his troubles speaking in English, Dion, whose first language is French, has also been unable to alter the Conservatives' portrayal of him as a feeble and indecisive leader.

An academic and former environment minister, his come-from-behind win at the 2006 Liberal leadership convention surprised all.

Now faced with a "potential disaster" at the polls, many Liberals reportedly regret having cast their support for Dion as leader, suggesting this election might have been winnable with someone else at the helm.

Pundits note that NDP leader Jack Layton has so far run a much more efficient campaign, relentlessly attacking the Conservatives' said lackluster social agenda.

The Conservatives too have been aggressive in wooing voters with a litany of television advertisements characterizing Harper as a concerned father, soft-spoken and wearing knitted sweaters, meant to mollify perceptions that he is a stern leader with cold blue eyes.

The Liberals, supporters lamented, have kept their main strength -- their team credentials -- under wraps.

The Conservatives are often criticized for a dearth of experience in their ranks, but the Liberals boast a plethora of star candidates, including former Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff, former NDP Ontario premiere Bob Rae and Justin Trudeau, the son of Canada's most famous prime minister.

A Liberal Party spokesman explained to AFP that each candidate had to focus initially on their own electoral districts, but would be available for team gigs nationwide as the campaign progressed.

A Tuesday appearance by Dion in Halifax flanked by Rae was heralded as the first of many upcoming team events aimed at boosting Liberals' fortunes ahead of the October 14 vote.

Source: Google - AFP

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