- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2008

TORONTO | Canada‘s prime minister dissolved Parliament on Sunday and called an early election next month in hopes of strengthening his Conservative minority government’s hold on power.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s party needs to win an additional 28 seats to have a majority in Parliament. Although he has played down that possibility, polls in recent days indicate that his right-wing party has a chance to do so.

The Oct. 14 election will be Canada’s third ballot in four years.

The Conservatives unseated the Liberal Party in 2006 after nearly 13 years in power, but as a minority government, the Conservatives have been forced to rely on opposition lawmakers to pass legislation and adopt budgets.

With Mr. Harper signaling in recent weeks that he was leaning toward calling early elections, analysts said the Conservatives had a better shot of winning now than if they waited until being forced by the opposition into a vote later, when the Canadian economy might be worse off.

On Sunday, Mr. Harper visited Governor General Michaelle Jean and asked her to dissolve Parliament. The governor general is the representative of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who is Canada’s head of state, but the position is purely ceremonial and obeys the wishes of the prime minister.

“Between now and October 14, Canadians will choose a government to look out for their interests at a time of global economic trouble,” Mr. Harper said after the meeting.

“They will choose between direction or uncertainty; between common-sense or risky experiments; between steadiness or recklessness.”

Liberal leader Stephane Dion acknowledged that his party faced an uphill battle in the election campaign.

“I love it. I love to be the underdog. I love being underestimated,” Mr. Dion said.

Mr. Harper has said he is running on economic issues and stresses his opposition to an energy tax proposed by the Liberals.

But Robert Bothwell, director of the international relations program at the University of Toronto, argued the move was political.

“Harper is going for a majority government. That’s really the only issue,” he said.

Observers also say Mr. Harper wanted a ballot ahead of the U.S. election. Mr. Bothwell said that if Democrat Barack Obama surges in the next month in the United States, it will help Canada’s opposition Liberal Party.

“It will be bad for Harper. Canadian politics don’t exactly mirror those of the United States, but if something happens in the United States, it will find an echo in Canada,” Mr. Bothwell said.

Electoral legislation that Mr. Harper helped enact after he came to power in 2006 fixed the date for the next election in October 2009, but a loophole allows the prime minister to ask the governor general to dissolve Parliament.

The Conservatives now fill 127 of the 308 seats in Parliament. The Liberals have 95, Bloc Quebecois 48, the New Democrats 30 and the Greens have one seat. Three seats are held by independents, and four are vacant.

Recent polls indicate that the Conservatives are leading and have a chance to win a majority.

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