Canadians voted Tuesday in their third election in four years, likely to return the Conservatives to office as global stock market gloom turned to bloom.
Canada is the first major economy to go to the polls since the start of a global financial meltdown, to be followed by a US presidential election November 4.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, at the helm of a minority government since January 2006, is predicted to win his second mandate, with polls on Monday giving him a five percentage point lead over his main rival, Liberal leader Stephane Dion.
But with one-third of voters still undecided, and three other mainstream parties nipping at the front-runner's heels, a Conservative victory is by no means assured.
"It was hard to make my choice, especially on the economic question, because I find none of the party leaders very convincing," said Jos, who was casting his ballot in Montreal's Little Italy neighborhood, and declined to give his last name.
The 37-day electoral campaign started slow but in its dying days was dominated by the question of who was best qualified to lead the country amid current economic uncertainty.
"The number one job of the next prime minister of Canada is to protect this country's economy, our earnings, savings and jobs at a time of global economic uncertainty," Harper said Monday in the town of Cornwall, Prince Edward Island.
"If you give me the honor of re-electing me as your prime minister, I can assure you that I will make it my top priority to protect Canada's economy and Canadians' stake in it," he said.
On a coast-to-coast blitz, Harper urged supporters to push hard to the finish line. "In this close election, there is no guarantee we will win," he said.
Dion meanwhile said the incumbent prime minister "has no plan" to safeguard Canada's economy from the worldwide woes provoked by a collapse in the US subprime mortgage market.
"We have a plan to create jobs, to ensure that we are doing all we can in these tough economic times to protect our pensions, our savings, our mortgages, and our jobs," Dion said in Fredericton.
Throughout the campaign, partisan jockeying over health care, justice, arts and culture funding, Canada's mission in Afghanistan and climate change was ordinary, even dull, with no one issue galvanizing voters.
Then in the last 10 days, focus shifted to global financial troubles, and Harper lost his early 10-point lead.
Rivals accused Harper of glossing over Canadians' fears of US economic carnage splattering this country, despite his and his finance minister's efforts to reassure them.
They attacked Harper's "stay the course" campaign, and for saying in a recent television interview that plunging stock markets presented good buying opportunities for investors.
Harper shot back, saying the Liberals' plan for the largest tax shift in recent Canadian history, massively cutting income and corporate taxes to offset a new pollution tax, was too risky in "uncertain economic times."
Amid the politicking, the Toronto Stock Exchange took its worst beating in almost 70 years, and a leading Canadian bank predicted a recession in 2009.
Nearing the finish line, support for both the Conservatives (33 percent) and the Liberals (28 percent) was actually down two percentage points from the last election in 2006, according to the Strategic Counsel.
The nascent Green Party meanwhile nearly doubled its support to 11 percent, the separatist Bloc Quebecois dropped one percentage point to 10 and the New Democrats remained at 18 percent.
Tuesday, the TSX/S&P index bounced back 1,600 points in early trading after the United States and European governments unlocked more than two trillion dollars in rescue funds for ailing banks the previous day.
By mid-afternoon, the Toronto Stock Exchange rally had settled back to a more modest gain of 731 points or eight percent to 9,796.
But after a dizzying roller coaster ride, Canadians' footing was shaky and fears of a US-led global recession spilling over into Canada still haunted them.