Canada Liberals face two-way challenge

Prime Minister Jean Chretien's decision to call a snap election a year and a half before it is required has run into trouble before the campaign is 48 hours old.

The governing Liberals called the election for 2 June because there were indications that the strong lead they have maintained in the polls since the last election was starting to fray. They wanted to nip in the bud the first indications of a Conservative Party revival.

Another major reason for the early call was to take advantage of confusion within the separatist Bloc Quebecois. Since Lucien Bouchard, its founder, became premier of Quebec last year, the Bloc has no one at the federal level tocan match his charisma.

But Prime Minister Chretien has already come under criticism because he was able to offer no reason other than political opportunism for calling the election at this time. Callers on radio talk shows were overwhelmingly negative yesterday. The criticism was particularly strong in Western Canada where attention is focusing on the worst flooding in 50 years in Manitoba, and electioneering has been put on hold until the spring runoff subsides.

If the support levels registered in pre-election polls were to be maintained, the Liberals would have no trouble returning to Parliament with a strong majority, since there is no obvious alternative. The two strongest opposition parties are the Bloc, which stands only in Quebec, and Reform, which draws most of its support from the two most western provinces.

The only national opposition parties are the Conservatives - driven from power in 1993 and reduced to two seats in the House of Commons - and the centre-left New Democrats who also lost their official party status (requiring a minimum of 12 seats) in the last election.

But signs of a Conservative recovery have started to appear, mostly because of the Tories' dynamic young leader, Jean Charest. At 38 - compared with Mr Chretien's 63 - he portrays himself as the leader for the 21st Century.

Although recent polls are showing modest increases for the Conservative Party as a whole, Mr Charest is outscoring the prime minister on leadership ratings, especially in Mr Chretien's home province of Quebec.

In the first poll since the election call, the Liberals' strategy for fighting off the Bloc Quebecois seems to be working with the party moving into almost a tie in the popular vote. But with Liberal support concentrated heavily among English -speaking Canadians and immigrants, the Bloc would still win more seats.

Another reason for the early election is the need for time to prepare for what could be the final battle with the separatists in an another referendum expected next year. The Liberals will have to offer additional concessions to offset the powerful appeal of Premier Bouchard. But those are likely to be unpopular in many parts of English-speaking Canada so Mr Chretien will downplay them to run on his economic record.

Budget-cutting has reduced the deficit and helped bring intererest rates to their lowest levels in 35 years. The Liberals have also reduced unemployment although it still remains at 9.5 per cent of the labour force.

The Liberals' major disappointment, however, has been their failure to reduce separatist support in Quebec. They have not recovered from the shock of the 1995 referendum in which the separatists came within one percentage point of winning.

The separatists have convinced the French-speaking majority in Quebec that Mr Chretien is to blame for Quebec's failure to win a special constitutional status.

Mr Charest is unlikely to gain many seats in Quebec because the vote is so polarised - federalists will concentrate their support for the Liberals. But in the rest of the country, he is making a strong case that he is a more modern, foward-looking leader than Mr Chretien.

"The choice is whether old, complacent leaders stay the course, or we set the course," Mr. Charest said in his election launch.

The Liberals are almost certain to retain power. But they will have to win a series of regional battles as well as counter Mr Charest's revival. The New Democrats will attempt to challenge the Liberals throughout the country but they have not been able to counter the rightward drift of Canadian politics over the past decade.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £38,000

£22000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role is a mixture of office...

Recruitment Genius: Web Hosting Support Agent

£17100 - £20900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Health & Safety Support Tutor

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Assistant

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests