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Support for Liberals falls
Opposition fails to cash in on scandals, EKOS poll shows
By Tim Harper
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
CP Photo/Fred Chartrand
Prime Minister Jean Chretien's government is embroiled in controversy over the handling of government contracts.
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OTTAWA — Jean Chrétien is bleeding from an ongoing ethics scandal, but the wounds so far do not appear life-threatening, a new poll indicates.

The governing Liberals have experienced a "significant" drop of nine percentage points in public support — four points in the last two weeks — but the poll by EKOS Research Associates also shows no other party poised to take advantage of the deepest crisis in the Chrétien government since it came to power in 1993.

The poll, commissioned by The Toronto Star, CBC and La Presse, also shows most respondents still feel the Prime Minister, among the federal leaders, is best placed to deal with corruption. And half of those questioned said they approved of Chrétien's promise last week to introduce an eight-point ethics package.

Chrétien also won strong support for his decision to fire former defence minister Art Eggleton over the awarding of an untendered contract to his former girlfriend.

EKOS found support for the Canadian Alliance up eight points since it last polled in January. It also showed new leader Stephen Harper restoring traditional support for the party that had been lost during the chaotic reign of Stockwell Day.

New Democrats under leader Alexa McDonough, who have been the least aggressive of all parties in jumping into the ethics fray, also rose three points since the last time EKOS tested popularity, the party's highest level of support in four years.

The poll is bad news for the Progressive Conservatives, who are down five points since January, with leader Joe Clark fighting speculation that he is set to resign in advance of a mandatory party review of his leadership in August.

The Bloc Québécois was essentially unchanged.

Nationally, EKOS found the Liberals had 45 per cent support among decided voters, followed by the Alliance at 17 per cent, the Tories and New Democrats at 13 per cent each and the Bloc at 8 per cent.

"No one party is particularly poised to take advantage of this situation," said EKOS president Frank Graves.

The poll of 1,217 adults as carried out Monday through Wednesday this week, right after Chrétien fired Eggleton and demoted Don Boudria.

EKOS says its poll results are valid plus or minus 2.8 percentage points nationally, 19 times out of 20.

Graves said his polling found Canadians are concerned about the ethical behaviour of their government, and he found a fatigue with the Liberals and Chrétien setting in among the electorate.

However, Canadians still believe the level of corruption in their federal government is lower than the level in other countries, such as the United States, Italy and Russia, the poll found.

There are some disturbing signs for the government.

Over the last two weeks, Canadians' trust in government dipped seven percentage points to a level where only 27 per cent they trust the Liberals.

Thirty-seven per cent of those polled think "quite a few" of those running the government are crooked and 54 per cent agreed the ethical standards of the federal government have slipped badly in the past decade.

However, perception of the government as a whole, the bureaucracy, the national media and provincial governments fared only marginally better with all perceived to be corrupt by between 41 and 43 per cent of respondents.

Although 50 per cent of respondents who had heard of Chrétien's promised ethics package either "strongly supported or somewhat supported" it, 67 per cent said they heard nothing about it.



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