As Prime Minister Paul Martin prepares to announce a national election, polls indicate that his Liberal Party could be in danger of losing its majority in Parliament.
Support for the Liberals, shaken by a financial scandal, has slid steeply since Martin was sworn in five months ago. A poll released Saturday by the polling firm Ipsos-Reid showed that 35 percent of voters surveyed nationwide say they would vote for the Liberals, down from 50 percent.
In results released Friday, Ipsos-Reid also found that 61 percent of voters surveyed consider the Liberals corrupt and that only 36 percent believe the party deserves to be reelected.
"These are all signs things are not well with the Liberal vote," said John Wright, senior vice president of Ipsos-Reid. ". . . You have a soft base and an angry electorate. It doesn't look like a good mandate. This election will be fascinating."
Martin, who is expected to announce on Sunday that elections will be held June 28, has promised to improve health care, education and government accountability.
The Conservative Party, led by Stephen Harper, has vowed to cut taxes and government waste.
A party must win at least 155 seats in the next Parliament, which will have 308 members, to form a majority government. If the Liberals win fewer than 155 seats, they would have to form a coalition with another party to pass legislation.
Canadian prime ministers may call an election at any time during their five-year mandate. The party that wins a majority of parliamentary seats becomes the governing party, and the leader of the majority party becomes prime minister.
Although Martin is not required to call an election yet, his aides are said to believe that if he waits, the party might suffer more damage from the scandal.
Political analysts say Ontario, which has 103 parliamentary seats, is key to a Liberal win. The Ipsos-Reid poll indicated that support for the Liberals in the province had fallen to 42 percent from 49 percent.
"This election hangs in the balance between 5 to 7 percent of eligible voters in the province of Ontario," Wright said. "If they decided to stay home and not vote or switch their vote to someone else, Paul Martin will be handed a minority government."
A poll conducted by the National Post also found that the Liberals and the Conservatives would be locked in a tight contest in Ontario. Many voters in the province are angry with the provincial Liberal Party, which this week released a plan to raise health care insurance premiums.
The poll showed that 39 percent of voters surveyed in Ontario would vote Conservative, while 42 percent said they would vote Liberal. The Conservative Party has a strong hold in western Canada.
The Bloc Quebecois, the separatist party led by Gilles Duceppe, leads in Quebec.
Conrad Winn, of COMPAS Inc., which conducted the poll for the National Post, said voters were angry about the government financial scandal, which he called the "mother of all Achilles' heels."
The scandal came to light in February when Canada's auditor general released a report claiming that as much as $75 million of federal government money had been funneled to advertising firms with close ties to the Liberal Party. The report said the advertising firms did little or no work, yet received millions in pay.
Earlier this week, Canada's main opposition parties released their own report, which accused the Liberal government of "gross abuse of power" and claimed Jean Chretien, the former Liberal Party prime minister, and Martin should be held accountable.
Martin has denied any wrongdoing and offered to resign if a government investigation found he knew that funds were misused.
Less than four years ago, the Liberal Party swept to victory, winning 173 seats under Chretien, his third consecutive national win.
But political analysts say the party was hurt by a rivalry between Martin and Chretien, who fired Martin as finance minister in June 2002, after Martin refused to stop campaigning for Chretien's job.
Martin remained popular within the party, and Chretien resigned as prime minister in December 2003.
"If Martin comes out of the wings with a minority government, it would be difficult for him to survive as leader beyond six months," said Rudyard Griffiths, executive director of the Dominion Institute, a Toronto-based research firm.
"The whole thing would be a Greek tragedy," he said, "the father and son, the evil king, Jean Chretien, who leaves the young prince with a ticking time bomb, the scandal."