Canada votes amid economic uncertainty

October 14, 2008 12:00 am

, OTTAWA, October 14 – Canada on Tuesday holds its third election in four years, likely to return the Conservatives to office in the first G7 ballot since the start of a global financial meltdown.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is predicted to win his second mandate since January 2006, with the latest polls giving him a five percent lead over his main rival Liberal leader Stephane Dion.

But with one-third of voters still uncertain, and three other mainstream parties nipping at the frontrunner’s heels, a Conservative victory is by no means assured.

"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 honour 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.

In his final campaign tour, Harper urged supporters to push hard to the finish line.

"In this close election, there is no guarantee we will win," he said before flying to Fredericton in easternmost Canada and ending his day in Vancouver on the Pacific Coast.

Dion meanwhile called on voters to "stop Stephen Harper," saying 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," he said.

"If we come together, if we pull our votes together, we will win this election," Dion said in Fredericton, then taking his message to Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

In an interview with the Toronto Sun, Harper said he would step down if he does not win this election. But he hoped for a minority government, he told broadcaster CTV.

If Dion slips, the Liberals are said to be more likely to trample him than help him up to fight another election campaign.

Early on, Harper had hoped to usher in a new conservative era in Canadian politics while the centrist Liberals tracked left to counter him.

Newcomer Elizabeth May of the Green Party, hoping for its first MP in the House of Commons in this election, overcame objections to get a seat at a leaders’ debate.

The New Democrats made a significant push from the shadows to challenge the Liberals for the role of official opposition.

Justin Trudeau, the son of Canada’s late Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, meanwhile announced his first run for a parliamentary seat.

Otherwise, partisan jockeying over healthcare, justice, arts and culture funding, Canada’s mission in Afghanistan and climate change were part and parcel of the campaign.

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, and "not to panic."

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.

Canada’s economy has actually fared better than that of other Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations, and unlike places like the United States, its banks are not in danger of insolvency.

But some 75 percent of Canadian exports go south to its neighbour and biggest trading partner, and when the US economy stumbled in 1975, 1982 and 1991, so did Canada’s.

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 Green Party meanwhile nearly doubled its support to 11 percent, the Bloc Quebecois dropped one percentage point to 10 and the New Democrats remained at 18 percent.



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