Friday, September 5, 2008

Canada Votes Oct. 14

By David Akin

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper will visit Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean early Sunday morning and ask her to dissolve the 39th Parliament, Canwest News Service has learned. Canadians will vote Oct. 14, after the shortest campaign permitted by law.

Harper will begin campaigning immediately after leaving the Governor General's residence at Rideau Hall, touching down in at least two cities and possibly three before day's end Sunday.

The general election will supersede four scheduled byelections -- two each in Quebec and Ontario. Voters in three of those ridings were set to vote Monday.

Harper's decision to ask for a general election ends one of the longest minority Parliaments in the country's history.

The Conservatives and Liberals enter the 2008 race polling at levels hovering near the 2006 election results and most, including the prime minister, have predicted another minority government.

A second minority, though, would contradict the historical record. Only one Canadian prime minister, Liberal Lester B. Pearson, has won back-to-back minorities. The rest have either gone on to majority governments, such as Conservative John Diefenbaker, or have lost power entirely, as Liberal Paul Martin did in 2006, losing to Harper.

The Tories said Thursday that three prominent cabinet ministers will not seek re-election. Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson, whose controversial defection to the Conservatives shortly after the last election left a bitter legacy in his B.C. riding, has confirmed that he will not run again. Another rumoured retirement was confirmed when Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn indicated he will not seek re-election in his Newfoundland riding.

More surprisingly, Monte Solberg, first elected to the Commons in 1993, is stepping down. Solberg, who represented the Alberta riding of Medicine Hat, is minister of human resources and skills development.

"All three of these ministers have served Canadians with distinction and I am grateful for their years of dedication to both their constituents and Canadians from all across Canada," Harper said in a written statement.

In the meantime, the Conservatives, flush with more cash than they'll be legally allowed to spend during the campaign period, ramped up their pre-election advertising. The party released a new trio of ads, all of which feature only the prime minister. By contrast, the party's advertising last year featured several members of his caucus, such as Rahim Jaffer and Rona Ambrose, in an attempt to show off the party's youth and gender and racial diversity.

This time around, Tory strategists are essentially making it all about Harper, to the exclusion of others in cabinet or government. The tagline for the new ads is "We're better off with Harper" and each one features the prime minister sitting beside the fireplace at Harrington Lake, the prime minister's official summer residence in Gatineau, Que., talking about an issue.

One ad is called "Lest We Forget" and another is called "A Nation of Immigrants."

In the third ad, titled "Family is Everything," Harper talks about his relationship with his son, Ben.

"Being a father, it's the best experience of my life," Harper says at the end of that ad.

The Conservatives are able to place these ads on national television networks because they have been able to raise more money in the last year than all other political parties combined. That financial advantage has allowed the Conservatives to produce and air television and radio ads for the last several weeks and has allowed them to build a high-tech multimedia facility in Ottawa's eastern edge specifically for this election. That facility includes telephone banks, Internet content production facilities, and a television studio.

The Conservatives believe they will be able to bypass traditional media to distribute televised press conferences from that facility during an election campaign. At the same time, the agency that polices elections is warning all parties to avoid a so-called "in/out" financing scheme it believes the Tories carried out last election and is the subject of a bitter court case.

Elections Canada said the Tories shifted money from national headquarters to local campaigns and back again, so they could buy more elections ads, leaving taxpayers on the hook for part of the million-dollar tab.

In three separate meetings with all the parties over the last few days, Elections Canada hammered home the point with key reminders regarding election expenses, telling backroom organizers that "parties and candidates are different entities with different election expense limits" and -- if that isn't clear -- further down they say that "transfers of expenses are not permitted."

The Conservatives hold 127 seats in the current Parliament, the Liberals 95, the Bloc Quebecois 48 and the NDP 30. There are also four Independents and four vacancies.

Source: Canada.Com - The Edmonton Journal 2008

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