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.

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
Passing on: George Washington died alert, aware and in his own bed. This is the kind of of death most people would like to have
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Brendan Rodgers as a manager, writes Paul Scholes
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - Business Services-£70,000 OTE

£35000 - £45000 per annum + OTE £70,000 + car + pension: h2 Recruit Ltd: A wel...

Recruitment Genius: Service Receptionist / Warranty Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion the Largest Independent Motor...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game