No-Confidence Vote Forces New Election in Canada

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The government of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin lost a no-confidence vote Monday. As a result, Canadians will head to the polls for a new election in January. Martin's minority Liberal Party has been tainted by a corruption scandal.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Canadian politicians will be reaching out to voters this holiday season. That's because the government of Prime Minister Paul Martin lost a no-confidence vote yesterday, forcing new elections in January. Martin's minority government has been tainted by a corruption scandal. His Liberal Party still retains a slim lead in the polls, but opponents say it's too early to predict the outcome of the election. Jack Layton is leader of the New Democratic Party.

Mr. JACK LAYTON (New Democratic Party): We'll be entering an election that is wide open, because there is a positive option that people can have available to them, that--other than the Liberal broken promises and corruption and the Liberal wrongheadedness on the issues.

MONTAGNE: Reporter Richard Reynolds has been watching this story and has more from Toronto.

RICHARD REYNOLDS reporting:

In parliamentary elections held 18 months ago, the Liberal Party earned the right to govern but did not have a majority of seats. Since then, the government has had trouble clinging to power. The Liberals have been beset by scandal over a flawed government advertising program. By forcing an election now, the opposition is trying to capitalize on a report on the scandal released earlier this month. In the end, it took just 12 minutes for the three opposition parties to force an election.

Unidentified Woman: Yeas, 4, (French spoken), 171, nays (French spoken)...

REYNOLDS: Election day will be sometime in mid-January. Given the timing of this election, in the middle of a frigid Canadian winter, the weather might be the biggest factor. One winter storm could easily distort election results by dramatically reducing turnout in one part of the country. Claire Martin is a meteorologist with CBC Television.

Ms. CLAIRE MARTIN (Meteorologist, CBC Television): It is going to be harder than if it was in June. In June, you'd have to worry about the barbecue, putting the beer down to go vote. Now we have to worry about actually going through a howling snowstorm to go vote.

REYNOLDS: Barring a weather disaster, polls published in the past week indicate the next Parliament will look a lot like the current one: another Liberal Party minority government. But Canadian politics has seriously fractured in the past decade. With the emergence of a powerful new sovereigntist party in Quebec province, there are now four major parties. This makes it very difficult for any one party to secure a parliamentary majority. Professor Nelson Wiseman is an expert on Canadian politics.

Professor NELSON WISEMAN (Canadian Politics Expert): We're probably heading, in the longer term, toward coalition governments, which we haven't had in Canada, except for a brief exception during the First World War. So I suspect we're moving more in the Western European or European direction.

REYNOLDS: But the Liberals, who have run Canada since the 1930s, save for just 14 years, are going to try hard to hold onto power. Their key strategy will be to attack the leader of their chief competition, Stephen Harper, the head of the Conservative Party. One of the ways they do that is by portraying Harper as a George Bush clone. Attacking someone as too American or too close to whomever is in the White House is a technique that has worked well in the past. Norman Spector, chief of staff to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, believes many Canadians have doubts about the governing Liberal Party, but he thinks negative advertising techniques will still see them win the next election.

Mr. NORMAN SPECTER (Chief of Staff To Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney): People will sort of swallow their reticence and vote in a government that they may suspect is pretty arrogant, corrupt and sleazy, but still the fear factor that is inspired by these negative television campaigns is designed to make that alternative--sort of the only realistic alternative--unacceptable.

REYNOLDS: The campaign is likely to be fairly low-key for the next month. First there's the Christmas season. It will be hard to get people's attention. But candidates have not even been nominated in many districts. So the real campaign will not get going until after New Year's Day. That leaves just two or three weeks for a national election campaign. For NPR News, I'm Richard Reynolds in Toronto.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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