Chretien sets Canadian election for June 2
Prime minister asks for 'new mandate' for Liberals
April 28, 1997
Web posted at: 12:18 a.m. EDT (0418 GMT)
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OTTAWA (CNN) -- Canadians will go to the polls on June 2 to choose a new federal parliament, with Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his Liberals heavily favored to extend the mandate they won in 1993.
In Ottawa Sunday afternoon, Chretien announced the dissolution of the House of Commons and the election, which will be held almost a year and a half before his government's five-year term would have expired.
Riding high in the opinion polls and facing a divided opposition, the centrist Liberals and Chretien are hoping to win another term while the electoral winds are blowing in their favor.
"I will be asking Canadians to give the Liberal Party a new mandate to build on the record of the last four years," the prime minister said.
No other government in the past 40 years with an outright majority has declared an election this early, and opposition politicians attacked Chretien's decision, saying there is no compelling reason -- other than a political one -- to hold an election now.
At stake in the election will be 301 seats in the House of Commons, which is being expanded from its current 295 seats.
In the parliament dissolved Sunday, Liberals held 175 seats, more than double the number of seats held by their nearest rivals, the Bloc Quebecois, whose support comes from separatists in Quebec, and the right-wing Reform Party, which is potent in some western provinces.
The closest rival to the Liberals in terms of having a broad level of support across Canada are the Progressive Conservatives, who were turned out of power in Chretien's 1993 landslide and lost all but two of their parliamentary seats. The left-of-center New Democrats were the other major party in parliament, holding nine seats.
With the conservative opposition divided between the Reform and Conservative parties, recent polls show the Liberals anywhere from 24 points to 40 points ahead. But about one-third of voters are undecided, and the Canadian electorate has been volatile in recent years.
Chretien, 63, who hails from Quebec, is running on his record of getting Canada's fiscal house in order, including taming a federal budget deficit.
"Deficit reduction is not an end in itself. It is the means to an end," Chretien said. "Canadians must now decide what kind of country they want to build with the hard-won dividend."
But his opponents, both left and right, see the affable, inoffensive Chretien -- known for his frequent mangling of both English and his native French -- as a leader without a compelling vision.
"In this election, many Canadians are asking, 'What are you going to do about my high taxes, how are your proposals going to improve my job prospects, what fresh ideas do you offer to keep my country together?'" said Preston Manning, leader of the Reform Party.
Keeping Canada together may be the next prime minister's biggest challenge -- and likely a major issue in the election.
Though a French Canadian, Chretien and the Liberals oppose independence for Quebec, which is the aim of the Bloc Quebecois. In 1993, the Bloc won enough seats in the federal parliament to be the official opposition to the Liberals.
Indeed, Chretien's home province may be where he is the weakest, although Liberals also have problems in the western provinces due to a tough gun control law they pushed through last year.
The separatists won two-thirds of Quebec's parliamentary seats in the last election. If Liberals don't make inroads this time around, some analysts believe it may embolden separatists to push for another referendum on Quebec's independence, an idea narrowly rejected in 1995.
Separatist forces are even battling Chretien for his own seat in parliament, from a constituency located northeast of Montreal, by putting up as a candidate former provincial minister Yves Duhaime.
Duhaime claims current polls show him leading Chretien for a seat the prime minister has held for most of the last 35 years.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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