- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

OTTAWA Prime Minister Jean Chretien's gamble for a place in Canadian history paid off yesterday as his Liberal Party won a third straight majority in an early election, the third national vote in seven years.

The Liberals won or had solid leads in more than 160 of the races for the 301 seats in the House of Commons, more than enough to guarantee them a majority, according to projections by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and the news agency Canadian Press.

The news organizations said it based its projections on official results coming across the country of 30 million people.

The results were clearest in the more heavily populated eastern Canada. Returns were still being counted in much of central and western Canada.

The result appeared to reflect that Canadians were enjoying an economic boom and looked forward to Liberal promises of $67 billion tax cuts over five years. It also appeared that Canadians were willing to forgive Mr. Chretien, 66, for calling the election just 3 and 1/2 years into his second five-year term.

Yesterday's outcome was similar to the previous vote in 1997, when the Liberals won 155 of the 301 House of Commons seats. The majority victory means Mr. Chretien will be the longest-serving leader of the world's industrial powers when President Clinton steps down in January.

It also secured his legacy as one of only three Liberal leaders able to deliver three straight majority victories, something that even Pierre Trudeau was unable to do.

Mr. Trudeau's death in September, and the subsequent emotional outpouring that boosted Liberal support, contributed to Mr. Chretien's decision to take a chance with an early vote that could evoke a backlash from voters.

He also wanted to prevent the newly formed Canadian Alliance from gaining momentum in its efforts to consolidate conservative support, and needed to fend off moves within his own Liberal Party to make him step aside.

Failure to win a majority would likely have forced out Mr. Chretien as party leader in favor of heir apparent Paul Martin, the finance minister who has much greater personal popularity.

Regardless of the outcome, no change was expected in Canada-U.S. relations. The two countries form the world's largest two-way trade partnership, with Canada's economic growth in recent years dependent on a similar boom south of the border in the dominant U.S. economy.

Canadians voted the old-fashioned way in yesterday's election, marking an X on ballots with candidates listed in alphabetical order, then manually counting each one.

Voters used the same one-issue ballot for the 301-member House of Commons. With a maximum of 21 million votes expected, counting by hand was feasible. Officials say that simplicity prevents problems like those menacing results in the U.S. presidential election.

Despite minor glitches with voters lists in some polling stations, balloting went smoothly as people lined up before heading to work. Mr. Chretien, wearing a dark overcoat while voting with his wife, Aline, in his hometown of Shawinigan in Quebec, said: "It's easier than in the United States."

In Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, election officer Bill Claire said some lists were missing entire streets or buildings.

"Whole groups of people are simply not on the list people who have lived in Halifax and Dartmouth for 40 years and have voted in five elections," said Mr. Claire. "Why it ended up in such a mess, I don't know."

Elections Canada spokesman Hal Doran said the problems were about the same as other federal elections.

Voters chose the representative from their district to the House of Commons. There was no direct voting for prime minister. The Liberals, guaranteed a majority, will form the next government with Mr. Chretien, the party leader, as prime minister.

None of the five major parties in the election could claim coast-to-coast popularity. Just like in 1997, the Liberals dominated in vote-rich Ontario, receiving 50 percent of the popular vote and winning or leading in virtually all of the 103 seats, while the Alliance got almost all its support in the four western provinces.

In Quebec, the separatist Bloc Quebecois and the Liberals were running even in the race for the province's 75 seats, while the Liberals won 19 of the 32 seats in the Atlantic provinces and Prince Edward Island to lock up the majority victory.

Both the Progressive Conservatives and leftist New Democratic Party fared poorly, hovering near the minimum 12 seats needed to take part in parliamentary debate.

A total of 20.4 million Canadians were registered, with a few hundred thousand more expected to register at polling stations yesterday. The 67 percent turnout in the 1997 vote was the lowest since 1925.

In calling the early election, Mr. Chretien hoped to prevent the Alliance and its 50-year-old untested leader, Stockwell Day, from gathering any momentum after forming in March. The Alliance struggled, with Mr. Day a fundamentalist Christian who believes in creationism spending much of the campaign trying to counter suggestions that he and his allies were right-wing zealots.

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