- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2004

TORONTO — In an effort to widen his narrow lead in the polls and end nearly 11 years of Liberal Party rule, the leader of Canada’s new Conservative Party has attacked incumbent Prime Minister Paul Martin as lenient on child pornography.

With a Saturday poll by Toronto-based Ipsos-Reid giving the Conservatives a 32-29 percent lead before the June 28 election, Conservative leader Stephen Harper, 45, has accused Mr. Martin of killing a bill to further restrict child pornography by calling the election before the measure could be signed into law.

The party withdrew a press release titled, “Paul Martin Supports Child Pornography?” but Mr. Harper defended the substance of the release as “clearly true, and that is that Mr. Martin and the Liberal Party have in fact been soft on porn.”

The Liberal-led government has tightened restrictions on child pornography, but many Canadians were shaken by a 2001 Supreme Court ruling legalizing the personal use of written or visual child pornography that does not involve real children.

The issue came into play last week when convicted murderer Michael Briere said watching child pornography on the Internet had spurred him to rape, murder and dismember a child. Holly Jones, 10, of Toronto, was murdered last year.

“The Liberal Party is making a grave mistake by letting this become the issue of the campaign,” Mr. Harper said at a campaign stop in New Brunswick.

Mr. Martin has dismissed the attack, saying, “I don’t think that any parent or any Canadian would buy that kind of an implication, and I don’t think they would buy that implication in terms of me.”

Mr. Martin’s struggling campaign had planned to showcase a country in good shape. When he took over as prime minister from Jean Chretien in November, he presided over a strong economy, a $5.1 billion government surplus, low inflation and a dormant separatist movement in Quebec.

As Canada’s finance minister from 1993 to 2002 and the Cabinet minister responsible for Quebec, Mr. Martin claimed credit for these achievements.

But his campaign has proven inept, and an unexpected level of voter anger is turning against him.

Ironically, it was Mr. Martin, 67, who opened the election as “a campaign of values,” warning that the Conservatives — a merger of two right-wing parties — were out of touch with most Canadians on abortion, capital punishment, bilingualism and homosexual rights.

But Mr. Harper, a soft-spoken and earnest economist, has made the values issue his own. He has hammered away at Liberal Party favors to politically friendly companies and government mismanagement that he says has wasted billions of tax dollars.

“Not another four years with their hands in the treasury,” he warned at a rally in Windsor, Ontario.

Voter anger at Liberal Party governments in Canada’s two largest provinces — Ontario and Quebec — and a desire for political change also have contributed to the rise of the Conservatives.

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