By David Ljunggren
St John's, Newfoundland - Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin shrugged off a poll on Saturday suggesting there was a serious risk he could lose power in a June 28 election, saying he was still convinced voters would back his Liberal Party.
The Ipsos-Reid poll for the Globe And Mail newspaper put the Liberals at 32 percent - a 13-year low - and the opposition Conservatives at 31 percent. The left-leaning New Democrats stayed steady at 17 percent.
While previous polls had made it clear the Liberals would lose their majority in parliament, the latest survey suggested the party - badly hit by a patronage scandal - could be booted out of office altogether.
But Martin said he was sure voters would back the Liberals' agenda of balanced budgets and increased health care spending rather than backing the Conservatives, who want to boost the armed forces while slashing taxes.
"I think when Canadians are faced with that choice and understand the differences between the parties, that in fact clearly they are going to vote Liberal," he told reporters in the Atlantic province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
But Ipsos-Reid president Darrell Bricker said the poll spelled real trouble for Martin, who has seen the party's fortunes gradually dip in the first two weeks of the campaign.
"This is bad, bad, bad for the Liberals. They've thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the Conservatives, and none of it seems to be working," Bricker told the Globe And Mail.
"The problem for the Liberals right now is simple - people don't seem to trust them."
Party dissidents say it was a mistake to call the election when polls showed Canadians were angry over a report revealing C$100-million (about R518-million) in government funds had been funneled to firms with close Liberal ties.
The poll shows no party would get anywhere near the 155 seats needed to gain a majority in the 308-seat parliament and would need to form an alliance with a smaller party to govern.
An increasing number of Liberals are unhappy with the party's performance and want Martin to fire some of his top campaign aides. Martin disagrees, saying on Saturday he felt "the campaign is proceeding very, very well".
The Liberals won the last three federal elections by picking up the majority of seats in the powerful provinces of Ontario - which accounts for 106 seats - and Quebec.
Martin suffered a big hit in the polls after Ontario's provincial government raised taxes last month after promising not to do so. The Liberals are now trailing the Conservatives in Ontario for the first time in 19 years, the poll shows.
In French-speaking Quebec, where the Liberals were predicting only a few months ago they would make big gains, the polls showed the separatist Bloc Quebecois would win 56 to 60 of the province's 75 seats.