PM Stephen Harper calls for snap elections

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called for a general election on Oct. 14, saying parliament has become dysfunctional. The upcoming vote comes at a time of economic difficulties and marks the country's third election in four years.


OTTAWA - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will
call a general election on Sunday, with the vote on Oct. 14,
to focus on the weak economy and an opposition plan to
impose a carbon tax, his office said on Friday.

The election will mark Canada's third national vote in four
years and comes at a time when the economy is struggling to
cope with the slowdown in the United States, the country's
largest trading partner.

Harper's Conservatives won a minority government in January
2006 and polls indicate a vote now would result in another
Conservative minority.

"We think it's about who do you want to have leading the
country in uncertain economic times," said a top Harper aide.

Harper was supposed to wait until October 2009, the date
set for the next election under a law brought in by the

But he says he wants an election now because Parliament has
become dysfunctional, a move that has prompted charges he is
making excuses to trigger a vote to suit his own ends.

"Stephen Harper wants to rush into an election before
Canadians can realize how little he has done to prepare our
country to deal with the slowdown of the economy," said
Stephane Dion, leader of the opposition Liberal Party.

Economic growth so far this year has been anemic and the
crucial manufacturing sector -- focused largely Eastern Canada
where Harper needs to pick up votes -- is struggling.

The aide said Harper would not promise major tax cuts. He
will vow to keep the budget in surplus while cracking down on
crime and boosting the military.

The Conservatives will also attack the Liberals' carbon tax
proposal, which is designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions
while remaining revenue neutral by way of income tax cuts and
assistance for the poor.

"This guy (Dion) could bumble his way into the big chair
and Canadians could end up with a carbon tax ... that's not
likely to go away," the Harper aide told reporters.

The Conservatives regularly mock the Liberal leader, a
former academic from French-speaking Canada who sometimes has
trouble making himself understood in English.

"To get the message across you have to have someone that
people are willing to listen to and this is the big question --
will the Liberals have that person?" said Pierre Martin, a
political scientist at the University of Montreal.

Dion, an outsider, surprisingly won the Liberal leadership
race in late 2006 and has little support among legislators.

Many Conservatives -- and some Liberals -- agree Dion could
be a major liability for his party.

Yet despite their many advantages, the Conservatives have
not managed to build a solid, lasting lead in opinion polls
over the Liberals during their time in power.

They have rarely managed to record more than 36 percent of
public support, short of the 40 percent needed for a majority
under the first-past-the-post electoral system.

"I haven't seen anything to suggest that there would be a
significant change in the current political environment," said
pollster Nik Nanos of Nanos Research.

Part of the reason is continuing voter uncertainty about
Harper, seen as a cold, aloof and rather wooden figure who
opponents say is harboring an extremist agenda.

"We need to win against the most right-wing prime minister
in the history of our country ... Stephen Harper wants to give
George W. Bush a third term in Ottawa," Dion said this week.

The Conservatives, who point to their record as evidence
this charge is nonsense, are very strong in rural areas and in
their main power base of Western Canada.

Yet they have made no headway at all in Canada's three main
cities -- Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Only one prime minister -- Liberal Lester B. Pearson in the
1960s -- has won two successive minority governments.

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