Montreal – Canadians are expected to elect another minority Conservative government as they head to national polls on Tuesday, the latest opinion polls show, reported dpa.

“We’re not talking about a majority,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party, conceded during a last ditch campaign effort Saturday in southern Ontario.

“There’s a million polls. Don’t be fooled by any of them. This is a close election,” Harper said at a rally in London, Ontario.

The Conservatives had come within reach of a majority government early in the election campaign. But the deepening worldwide financial crisis and a series of seemingly minor Tory missteps and gaffs have caused many voters to wonder whether Harper’s go steady policy is the right course to weather the economic storm.

An Ipsos-Reid poll for CanWest News and Global National TV put the Conservatives at 34 per cent voter support, with the official opposition Liberals following them closely at 29 per cent.

The socialist New Democrats were at 19 per cent, followed by the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which runs candidates only in the French- speaking province of Quebec, at 9 per cent and the Green Party at 8 per cent.

The Conservatives held 127 of 308 seats in the previous Parliament. To achieve a majority, they need about 40 per cent of popular vote. The Tories hope to pick up additional seats in the vote-rich central provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

The campaign started well for the Conservatives. Polls showed Harper enjoying a strong lead in leadership qualities over his rivals.

His political handlers tried to soften Harper’s image, telling him to ditch his trademark business suits in favour of sweaters and sports jackets. Harper ran on a promise of a family-friendly but fiscally responsible government.

He skillfully navigated a potential political minefield by pledging to withdraw Canadian troops from Afghanistan in 2011, after their current mandate expires.

Throughout his two-and-half years as prime minister, Harper had courted Quebec nationalist voters by among other things recognizing the majority French-Canadian province as a nation and audibly improving his own command of the French language.

By contrast, his main opponent, Liberal leader Stephane Dion, already handicapped by mediocre command of English, has had great difficulty in selling his complicated Green Shift carbon tax programme to fight climate change to a skeptical population already reeling from record-high fuel prices.

Then, two weeks into the campaign, the wheels started coming off the well-oiled Conservative machine.

A Conservative announcement of relatively minor cuts to arts and culture budgets and a pledge to introduce tougher sentences for young offenders suddenly backfired in Quebec, where culture is seen as key in maintaining the province’s distinct French-Canadian identity.

Then a number of embarrassing revelations, including an admission that a 2003 speech by Harper in support of the highly unpopular war in Iraq had plagiarized sections of an address by Australian then- Prime Minister John Howard, chipped away further at Tory support.

With the financial crisis savaging world economies, Harper’s assurances that fundamentals of the Canadian economy were solid and that there are probably some great buying opportunities in the stock market sounded out of touch with the jittery mood of the country. The opposition pounced on Harper, and the Conservative campaign seemed in freefall.

But by Saturday, the Tories managed to stop the hemorrhaging and even picked up support.

While the Tories have made significant gains in parts of Ontario, their campaign in Quebec has run into major difficulties and instead of gaining seats, the Conservatives might end up loosing five of their 11 seats in Quebec to the resurgent Bloc Quebecois.