- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

GRAND PRE, Nova Scotia — Canada’s Liberal Party government called an election yesterday, despite crumbling support in opinion polls and the prospect that it could be reduced to minority rule.

Voters will choose a new government on June 28. It will be their first opportunity to pass judgment on Prime Minister Paul Martin since he took over the job from Jean Chretien less than six months ago.

The election campaign promises to be tough for Mr. Martin. His Liberals have suffered a 23 percentage-point drop in support since January — largely because of a patronage scandal — and no longer will have a majority in Parliament if they lose 13 seats.

In that event, they likely would remain in power but be unable to govern without another party’s support. The latest Ipsos-Reid poll gives the Liberals 35 percent voter support compared with 26 percent for the Conservatives and 18 percent for the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP).

In announcing the election date, Mr. Martin accused the Conservatives of trying to make Canada too much like the United States.

“You cannot have a health care system like Canada’s, you cannot have social programs like Canada’s with taxation levels like those of the United States,” he told reporters in Ottawa.

“That’s why this election is so important. It’s about the values we bring with us into this century.”

Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper denies Mr. Martin’s claim that he would eliminate the government-funded universal health care system Canadians have enjoyed for 45 years.

“You can be a Canadian without being a Liberal,” Mr. Harper said. “The government seems to forget that. That’s why they need to be defeated. It’s that kind of arrogance that leads to the waste, mismanagement and corruption that we’ve seen.”

The Liberals have been hurt by an advertising and sponsorship scandal in which government-friendly companies received $100 million for little or no work. It is now the subject of a parliamentary inquiry and a criminal investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Mr. Harper, meanwhile, leads a newly united right. The Conservative Party was formed in December when the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties merged after having fought over conservative voters in past federal elections.

“Our new party has united conservatives as quickly as Paul Martin has divided the Liberals,” Mr. Harper said.

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