- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

TORONTO — Canadians are expected to deal the country’s Liberal dynasty a crushing blow when they cast their ballots in a federal election today, but it may not necessarily be a fatal one.

But polls published over the weekend suggest the race is simply too close to call. The ruling Liberals are in a dead heat with the Conservatives — locked in a statistical tie at 32 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

No matter which party wins the most seats, observers predict it will have to make do with a minority government and forge a potentially unstable coalition to stay in power.

In one scenario, the Liberals could end up with a minority government, after winning three consecutive majorities since 1993.

But voters could punish the Liberals even further for a growing financial scandal and give the newly united right wing a minority government. At least one noted professor, Barry Kay of Wilfrid Laurier University, believes the Conservatives will win 115 seats to the Liberals’ 106.

“This is a very tight election and I’m not taking anything for granted,” Prime Minister Paul Martin said during a final dash across the country to shore up Liberal support. “Every vote could make a difference.”

Mr. Martin is clearly worried about the prospect of being saddled with a minority government and spent the weekend trying to convince voters about its perils.

“We share the same values,” he said to supporters of the socialist New Democratic Party (NDP), which has an estimated 17 percent voter support. “For the good of the country, let us come together.”

Mr. Martin warned NDPers they must switch their allegiance to the Liberals or face a Conservative government that kowtows to the United States. Conservative leader Stephen Harper denied that and accused the prime minister of panicking.

“Paul Martin is a desperate man,” Mr. Harper said. “He forced out a party leader who had won three national majorities and is now taking that successful party to one of its most humiliating defeats in history.”

With a minority government, the winning party would have to form a coalition.

But that itself could prove far more controversial that any issue raised during the 36-day election campaign.

The winner would have to seek support from the NDP or the separatist Bloc Quebecois. Over the weekend, Mr. Martin refused to say whether he might call upon the NDP to help him remain in power. Polls suggest Canadians would not object too strenuously to a Liberal-NDP coalition.

Mr. Harper has denied repeatedly he intends to forge an alliance with the Bloc Quebecois. “We’ll deal with that situation when it comes,” he said. “But the bottom line is that I will not be making a deal with the Bloc Quebecois or NDP to stay in power.”

Canada’s last minority government was elected in 1979, but Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark’s coalition survived just nine months before being defeated by a motion of no confidence.

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