MPs start campaigning before PM calls election

The odds of a federal election being called in Canada Sunday appear to be about the same as a New York baseball team winning this month's World Series.

It's now all but certain that Prime Minister Jean Chrtien will ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament at 11 a.m. ET Sunday, and issue a writ for an election Nov. 27.

But as with the showdown between the Yankees and the Mets, the action actually got underway Saturday with eager leaders of all federal opposition parties hitting the campaign trail 24 hours early.

Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day chose a site across the river from Parliament Hill to deliver his opening challenge to the prime minister, suggesting five debates over the next five weeks one in each region of the country.

Two televised debates have already been confirmed for the five main party leaders one in French Nov. 8 and one in English the following day.

Day, who promised "bold approaches" to tax cuts, said Chrtien is calling the election now because he and the other Liberals feel threatened by the Alliance.

"I believe he sees the growing support across the country for the Canadian Alliance and its policies," said Day.

"I believe also he knows the growing discontent within his own caucus and that he will do whatever can be done to prevent other people like (Finance Minister) Paul Martin from ever being the leader of that party."

Tories aim for undecided voters

Conservative leader Joe Clark unveiled parts of his party's platform Saturday in St. Stephen, N.B.

A Tory government would eradicate the capital-gains tax to stop the "brain drain." Clark also promised to make stable health funding part of the Canada Health Act.

Clark said he believed the one-third of undecided voters will side with the Tories in the upcoming election.

"Those voters are a very real target for us as are a lot of people who are parked with the Liberal party but who don't want a government of arrogance and drift, and who don't want the kind of divisiveness that's reflected in the Alliance party," Clark said Saturday.

Clark went to the Ontario Tory policy convention in Toronto Friday to drum up provincial support for the federal Conservatives. Day made an appearance Saturday night.

Bloc Quebecois gears up for campaign

In Montreal, the Bloc Quebecois met to adopt its election platform, its last official act before hitting the campaign trail.

In a rousing speech, party leader Gilles Duceppe said he'll call for tougher anti-gang legislation to crack down on organized crime, a major problem in Quebec.

Duceppe also promised to go after Jean Chrtien, attacking the prime minister on patronage and government waste.

The sovereigntist party called for changes to employment insurance, and said Canada should consider a common currency with the United States and Mexico.

Duceppe predicted the party will do better than the 44 out of 75 Quebec seats it won in the last election, and suggested the Liberals might be reduced to forming a minority government in the Commons.

But the Bloc faces a tough task, asking Quebecers to once again send a separatist party to a federal Parliament where it has no chance of power.

Duceppe said the Bloc is the only party totally free to defend the interests of Quebec.

NDP says Canadians want more than tax cuts

NDP Leader Alexa McDonough helped open an Ottawa candidate's campaign office Saturday, refusing to buy recent polls that put her party far behind the Liberals and the Alliance.

"We've never been so ready for an election," she told about two dozen cheering supporters. The NDP has 260 candidates ready to run in ridings across the country.

McDonough said the government's recent mini-budget proves that Canada needs more New Democrats in the Commons, arguing that her party is the only one that puts social programs ahead of tax cuts.

The Canadian Auto Workers, which had recently suggested it might no longer support the NDP, voted Saturday to back the party offering $150,000 to the campaign fund.

Tobin says he's 'running scared'

Chrtien did not make any public appearances Saturday, although many Liberal MPs were putting up signs and finishing last-minute chores before the blitz begins.

Former Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin, who jumped back into federal politics less than a week ago, was busy announcing millions of dollars in federal money to restore two old fishing districts in the province.

He took time out to blow the candles off a cake as part of his 48th birthday celebration. Tobin's big wish appears to return to Parliament next month.

"I'm running scared," he told journalists. "I'm like 50 points behind, and I'm going to try very hard to earn the confidence of the people of this district."