Election season comes to Canada

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Spring has brought elections to Canada. Newfoundland just had one, Ontario goes to the polls May 2. The two provinces could not be more different -- a Conservative government is about all they have in common. Newfoundland just elected one. Ontario looks as though it will, too.

The big issue in Ontario is a party that has been in power for 42 years; the issue in Newfoundland was the premier himself.

Brian Peckford was reelected premier of Newfoundland this week for the third time in six years. He is a scrappy man: He fought the federal government over oil rights and lost; he fought Quebec over electricity and lost.

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Recently he moved to tone down his pugnacious image, perhaps just in time. The Conservatives dropped from 44 seats in the provincial legislature to 36 seats, still enough for a majority government.

Newfoundland is Canada's poorest province. It has only 575,000 people, most of them in a few large towns. Residents call it the rock.

The province hopes to strike it rich with the Hibernia oil field almost 200 miles offshore. So far it has produced more hope than money.

Ontario is the richest province in Canada. It is No. 1 in manufacturing, agriculture, and mining. Toronto's suburbs have more people than does all of Newfoundland.

The makeup of the Ontario electorate is urban -- 82 percent of the province's people live in its cities and towns -- yet the electors seem to like their political leaders to be from small towns. The new premier, Frank Miller, is from the Muskoka region north of Toronto. This is his first election as leader and already he has had to change some of his down-home ways.

He is out of his loud, checked sports jackets and into pin-stripe suits. Although he is not from the party establishment, Mr. Miller is fighting an establishment election, keeping a low personal profile and campaigning on the party's record.

The Conservatives have been in power since 1943, a record for any elected government in Canada. Miller's party has 72 seats in the Ontario legislature and he hopes to increase that to 80. The polls say he might.

The Ontario Liberals are led by David Peterson. This is his first election as party leader. The party holds 28 seats in the legislature is the official opposition.

Miller and Peterson both like to attack Bob Rae, the new leader of the mildly socialist New Democratic Party. A former Rhodes scholar, Rae is young and easily the best public speaker of the three leaders.

His party has 22 seats in the legislature but they were the official opposition before the last election. Mr. Rae seldom mentions the Liberal leader, pretending the official opposition party does not exist.

Rae has toned down the socialistic rhetoric of the NDP and has tried to make the party appeal to young middle-class voters. This election will test his strategy.

Both the Conservatives and the Liberals are worried that the NDP may make inroads, especially in the cities. The Liberals and NDP are saying 42 years is too long for one party to be in power. The longevity of the Tories is the major issue so far in this campaign.

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