- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

TORONTO — Canada’s political parties have been making campaign-style swings across the country in the past few weeks in anticipation that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will cash in on a rise in the polls by calling a snap election this spring.

Analysts think the next few weeks present Mr. Harper’s Conservative Party its best chance to win a majority in the House of Commons, and signs indicate he could call an election when Parliament returns from its Easter-Passover break next week.

What the prime minister lacks is a valid excuse to dissolve Parliament, and so far none of the opposition parties has given him one.

They had an opportunity to bring down his government when his budget came up for a vote last month, but the separatist Bloc Quebecois party used its 50 parliamentary votes to support him — which meant Mr. Harper could go on ruling for another year at the head of a minority government if he so desires.

The signs, however, indicate that Mr. Harper wants to try for a majority.

Recent opinion surveys show that the Conservatives have been making steady gains against their chief rivals, the Liberals. The latest Decima poll results, released April 5, showed the Conservatives ahead with 39 percent of support across the country, compared with 30 percent for the Liberals, 13 percent for the New Democratic Party, and 8 percent each for the Bloc Quebecois and the Greens.

Those results fell just one percentage point short of what the Conservatives need to win a paper-thin majority with 155 seats in the Commons. However, they are a lot better than the figures of January 2006, which gave the Conservatives a minority of just 124 seats. (The Conservatives got another seat when a Liberal defector from Ontario joined them a few weeks ago.)

Not only have the Liberals, under their new leader Stephane Dion, been trailing Mr. Harper’s Conservatives in the opinion surveys, but the figures from a series of recent surveys also show that the Conservatives’ lead has been widening in the past few weeks.

“I think these numbers suggest that the Conservatives have more forward momentum … than the Liberals do,” Decima pollster Bruce Anderson said.

Figures such as these could be a good incentive for Mr. Harper to look for the excuse he needs to call an early election.

What may give him pause is that Ontario remains a Liberal stronghold, while that party remains competitive in Quebec, though Mr. Harper is said to have been delighted by the losses suffered by the separatists in last month’s provincial election.

Leaving nothing to chance, the Conservatives have been using an aggressive advertising campaign to chip away at Mr. Dion’s image as a leader, in Ontario and in Quebec, and if the opinion surveys are any indication, the tactic has had some success.

Mr. Dion has begun to hit back with some radio and TV advertising, and the word “smear” seems to come up often in his recent speeches.

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