Why: Three little words: "The Gomery report." All the opposition parties insist Justice John Gomery's initial report on the sponsorship scandal proved that the Liberal Party of Canada is corrupt beyond redemption. The NDP, which had backed the Liberals last May in return for a $4.6-billion package of budget changes, cited corruption as it pulled its support from Paul Martin's government this fall. (Gomery's report found that some Liberal party officials in Quebec sought and received political donations from companies that were receiving lucrative government contracts, and that a handful of federal cabinet ministers or their staff members played a part in deciding who would get such contracts.)
The Conservatives have also been accusing Liberal politicians and supporters of having a "culture of entitlement" – basically, that they feel entitled to their positions in power and all the perks attached, and are not treating taxpayers' money with respect. The Liberals' last-minute burst of spending announcements also falls into the ethics basket, with political opponents accusing the Martin government of using public money to buy votes. Then there are former cabinet minister David Dingwall's severance package from the Royal Canadian Mint, the pricey European vacation of Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew's chauffeur, and allegations that the Nov. 23 decision not to tax income trusts was leaked from Finance Minister Ralph Goodale's office.
Who gains if voters agree: Everybody but the Liberals, especially in the 58 ridings where Liberal candidates won by margins of less than five per cent in June 2004.
Says who: The Liberals.
Who agrees: Some business groups; people who want new tax cuts to go through.
Why: Martin will be running hard on his record as the finance minister who made hard choices in the mid-1990s that led to Canada's enviable budget surpluses over the past eight years. No other G8 country has a record like that. The Liberals will also remind voters that the country is enjoying its lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, and a continued high standard of living when ranked against other industrialized nations. Another factor may be the approval with which many individual taxpayers and business groups met the set of tax reductions that Goodale unveiled in his "economic and fiscal update" on Nov. 14 – reductions that the Conservatives claim came straight from their last election platform.
Who gains if voters agree: The Liberals, since a healthy economy generally favours the ruling party.
Says who: The Liberals.
Who agrees: Voters who take part in opinion polls; the NDP.
Why: Health care consistently places high in polls asking Canadians what issue is most important to them. An Environics Research poll conducted from Nov. 21-25 for the CBC showed that health care was the top national priority for 30 per cent of those surveyed, while a total of only 14 per cent cited poor leadership, corruption, scandals, ethics and the problems pinpointed in the Gomery report. Martin's health minister, Ujjal Dosanjh, has accused the NDP of putting publicly funded health care at risk by shunning a proposal by the Liberals to "strengthen" Canada's medicare system, made this fall during negotiations aimed at keeping the Liberals in power. The NDP turned down the package, with leader Jack Layton saying it didn't go far enough to ensure private health care doesn't gain a foothold.
Who gains if voters agree: The Liberals if voters give them credit for Martin's 2004 health-care deal with the premiers; the NDP or the Conservatives if patients and their families still aren't seeing improvement on the front lines of health care.
Says who: Pundits.
Who agrees: All the political parties, when talking about their opponents
Why: Martin had promised to call an election within 30 days of the release of the final Gomery report, which will happen on Feb. 1, 2006. That would mean an election in March or April. His party says the three opposition parties are playing political games by forcing an election only two months earlier than that. The three other parties accuse Martin's Liberals of refusing to accept a compromise and agree to call an election at the opposition's preferred time: mid-February, only a couple of weeks after Gomery's second report is unveiled.
Who gains if voters agree: Probably the Liberals, whose original plan would have avoided an election campaign over Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, not to mention a voting day in the heart of a Canadian winter.
THE FUTURE OF QUEBEC
Says who: The Bloc Québécois.
Who agrees: The Liberals, when it comes to the party's campaign within Quebec.
Why: The Bloc has no intention of departing from its raison d'etre: to work on the federal front towards the to-them-inevitable day when Quebec separates from the rest of Canada. Every election is about the future of Quebec to Gilles Duceppe and his MPs. The Liberals are said to be preparing a whole different campaign to be delivered in the province of Quebec, where more than a dozen key ridings could be up for grabs. As well as portraying Martin as a good fiscal manager untainted by the sponsorship scandal and cleared by the Gomery report, they will concentrate on what the province has gained from being in the Canadian federation, and what Quebecers would sacrifice by leaving Canada.
Who gains if voters agree: The Liberals if voters forgive them for the sponsorship affair and feel they're the party best able to quash the separatist threat; the Bloc if voters believe the Liberals have soiled their nest in Quebec.
Says who: The Conservatives.
Who agrees: The NDP.
Why: "Change" has been a magic word in many Canadian elections over the years, especially when a party has held the reins of power for a long time. Martin has been prime minister for only two years, but the Liberals have been in charge since 1993. Twelve years is enough time for complacency to set in on the part of any ruling party, and voters can get itchy to try something else if a credible alternative presents itself.
Who gains if voters agree: The Conservatives, given their share of the popular vote over the years and the fact that they are a descendant of the only other federal party to ever hold power in Canada.
NONE OF THE ABOVE
Says who: Various interest groups.
Who agrees: Candidates who want to get elected in ridings where other issues are top of mind.
Why: Let's deal with just a few of the alternative topics that are sure to crop up in this campaign. Crime and gun control are hot-button issues in the city of Toronto right now, because of a high-profile spate of shootings that have claimed the lives of a number of young black men. Immigration issues will be a big deal in urban areas of Canada where newcomers either can't get accreditation to work in their fields or can't easily bring close family relatives to join them. The environment is an important issue to many Canadians, especially as Montreal hosts an international conference on climate change. Aboriginal communities may not want to jeopardize the $5-billion five-year deal they reached with Martin's government on Nov. 25 – or they may believe they can get a better deal from whoever replaces the Liberals.
Who gains if voters agree: The Conservatives on crime, if past voting patterns hold true. The NDP and the Green party on the environmental front. Probably the Liberals on immigration, unless past same-sex marriage decisions and a perceived lack of action on accreditation and settlement streamlining come back to haunt them. The Liberals again on aboriginal issues, thanks to the money they have put on the table for residential school abuse compensation and other aboriginal programs.
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