The federal Conservatives have opened up a seven-point lead on their Liberal rivals amid increased speculation Canadians will head to the polls in the spring, a new EKOS survey suggests.
According to the latest results from EKOS, released exclusively to CBC News, 34.5 per cent of respondents said they would vote for Stephen Harper's Tories if an election were held now, compared with 27.3 per cent saying they'd vote for Michael Ignatieff's Liberals.
Jack Layton's New Democrats received 14.8 per cent of support, while 10.3 per cent of respondents said they'd support the Green Party and 9.8 per cent backed the Bloc Québécois, the pollster said.
The Tories' lead has increased by more than two percentage points since the final EKOS poll of 2010 almost a month ago. The Conservatives ended the year with 32 per cent of voter support and the Liberals with 26.5 per cent.
In the survey, respondents were also asked: "If you were forced to choose between a Conservative government led by Stephen Harper and a coalition government made up of Liberal and New Democrat and led by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, which would you prefer?"
Forty per cent of respondents said a Conservative government, while 39 per cent said a Liberal-NDP coalition, according to the poll results. The survey question did not mention any potential participation of the Bloc Québécois, which signed a pledge to support the failed 2008 Liberal-NDP coalition agreement between Stéphane Dion and Layton.
The random telephone survey of 3,499 Canadians aged 18 and over was conducted Jan. 4-12 and is said to carry a margin of error of plus or minus 1.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Budget showdown looms
The latest support numbers come as the party leaders spend the final weeks of the winter break criss-crossing Canada and making campaign-style appearances ahead of Parliament's return on Jan. 31, when a potential showdown on the minority Conservative government's budget looms on the horizon.
Harper has decried what he said is a renewed push by opposition leaders for an "unnecessary" election.
The prime minister said his government will not accept a key Liberal demand that corporate tax cuts be rolled back in the budget, which is expected to be tabled in late February or early March. The budget will require the support of at least one of the three opposition parties in a confidence vote in the House of Commons.
Harper also indicated this week that the Conservatives will campaign to get rid of the public subsidy for political parties — a move the Conservatives tried in November 2008 that sparked the opposition's failed coalition effort.