Accessibility links

Economy Dominates Canadian Election

  • Craig McCulloch

This is the last weekend of campaigning before Canada's general election Tuesday. As Craig McCulloch reports, the current worldwide financial crisis have made the economy the driving issue of the campaign.

When campaigning started in early September, no issues were capturing headlines and opinion polls were showing the ruling Conservative party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper was headed for an easy re-election.

Canada follows the British parliamentary system. Voters in each of 308 constituencies select a Member of Parliament, or MP. The party with the most MPs usually forms the government and that party's leader becomes prime minister.

If the party wins less than 50 percent of the constituencies, as was the case in the last election in January, 2006, it is considered a minority government.

Before the economic problems on Wall Street started to reverberate globally, the only question was whether Mr. Harper would get a minority or a majority government.

That has now changed, with opposition parties quickly gaining ground and the Conservatives weakening.

The most recent polls put only four percentage points between the Liberal Party, which is the official opposition, and the ruling Conservatives. The Socialist-oriented New Democratic Party is now close behind the Liberals.

It was not until the last week of the campaign that Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a 49-year-old economist from the Western city of Calgary, released the party's election platform.

This brought the usual heavy criticism from the opposition parties.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion, a former university professor from the predominately French-speaking province of Quebec, has seen his campaign revitalized and his poll numbers rising. His rallies are growing louder with more supporters.

At an event here in Vancouver, the Liberal leader says the Conservative Party and its leader have been slow to react to the economic turmoil.

"Mr. Harper is coming too little, too late. With little help for the industry and the manufacturing sector and the aerospace industry," he said. "We have much more in our platform. We have much more in rich tax credit for Research and Development. For buying green machinery and equipment. To attract investments around the world to here in British Columbia and everywhere in Canada. Much more, but he is coming with this too little to late. His retail politics is not a vision."

Friday, the conservative government announced a plan to buy insured mortgage pools worth $25 billion Canadian - more than $21 billion U.S. -- to help the country's banks. But the government advocates strict limits on public spending as it deals with the economic crisis.

At a recent campaign event in Vancouver, Mr. Harper said the choice is simple, that Dion's Liberals will increase spending and taxes that will worsen the economic situation.

"There will be one of two outcomes: There will either be a Prime Minister Dion who will tackle our economic problems by increasing spending that we can't afford and increasing taxes to pay for it," he said. "Or our government, which will keep spending under control and keep taxes going down. Those are the two choices to deal with the economic problems in front of us."

Coming in an increasingly close third place in national opinion polls is the New Democratic Party, or NDP. The party and its leader, Jack Layton, could possibly form coalition Government with the liberals.

Layton says the conservative prime minister is ignoring the crisis to the detriment of everyday Canadians.

"There's a whole lot of families that are really struggling to make ends meet and they're watching their savings disappear in front of them," he said. "And they're very worried about their pensions and this, what, me worry? attitude that we have seen from Mr. Harper is wrong."

Two smaller political parties are also playing a role in this election.

For the first time, the Green Party and leader Elizabeth May got a place in the televised debate of party leaders earlier this month. They have been polling between 10 and 13 percent nationally.

The separatist Bloc Quebecois is only running candidates in the province of Quebec and is not expected to be a part of any prospective coalition government.