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Support fades for Liberals in Canada

OTTAWA -- Support for the governing Liberal Party has dropped sharply following a scandal involving possible government misuse of funds, according to a poll released yesterday.

The Ipsos-Reid poll for the Toronto Globe and Mail and CTV found that backing for the Liberals among registered voters had declined to 39 percent, from 48 percent last month.

Until last week, aides to the new prime minister, Paul Martin, had said he planned to call an election May 10 to take advantage of the party's popularity. This now looks less certain.

On Tuesday, a report said that Ottawa had taken $76 million from a sponsorship fund designed to promote national unity in Quebec and given it instead to advertising firms tied to the Liberals.

"Outside of an election period I've never seen numbers move like this," the Ipsos-Reid president, Darrell Bricker, was quoted as saying in the Globe and Mail.

"This one is like a wildfire," he said. "It's out of control and everything the prime minister has done at this point has just blown the flames higher."

The poll found that the newly created opposition Conservative Party had risen to 24 percent from 19 percent last month, while the left-leaning New Democrats edged up to 18 percent from 16 percent.

Martin has called for a public inquiry, has vowed to crack down on those responsible, and has dismissed the ambassador to Denmark, Alfonso Gagliano, who as public works minister oversaw the fund.

The scandal took place between 1997 and 2001, when Martin was finance minister and also one of the ministers responsible for Quebec. He says he did not know what was going on and said Chretien had kept him in the dark. Bricker said polling has found that many Canadians did not believe Martin had not known anything about the scandal.

The poll surveyed 1,055 Canadians and is considered accurate to within 3.9 percentage points.

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