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With economy slow, Canada to hold early elections

The ruling Conservative Party hopes to win at least 30 more seats to secure a House of Commons majority.

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A poll released last week puts the Conservatives within striking distance of a majority. The slowing domestic economy was pegged as the most important issue by 20 percent of Canadians, while 38 percent identified the Conservatives as the best party to manage the problem.

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But some analysts are skeptical that the Conservatives can prevail with a majority. According to Geoffrey Stevens, former editor of Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper who now teaches politics at Wilfrid Laurier University, the move demonstrates Harper's "naked ambition." By making a bold bid for a majority government, Harper appears to be willing to risk not only his career, but also the Conservative Party's future.

Undoubtedly, if neither party succeeds in eking out a stronger position in Parliament, both Harper and Dion will be forced to consider their future.

Unlike Americans who have strong feelings about their party leaders, Canadians don't appear to be inspired by either political rival, says Mr. Maharaj. Harper is seen as a micro-manager with a difficult relationship with the media, while Dion, a francophone from Quebec, is viewed as an intellectual who struggles with the English language. "It's a dismal collection," adds Mr. Stevens. "We don't have Obama. We don't have anyone like Pierre Trudeau. There's nothing refreshing about any of these politicians."

Partisan politics

The Conservative government has been one of the more long-lasting minority governments in Canadian history. While the New Democratic Party (NDP) had hoped to bring down the government last year, the Liberals, struggling to raise funds, didn't want to force an election.

Now, both Dion and NDP leader Jack Layton are hesitant to support a Conservative agenda. Policies including anticrime measures aimed at youth and further cuts to cultural programs – while popular with the Conservative voter base – are at odds with the Liberal agenda.

Over the past two weeks, the Conservatives have also come under fire after a deadly outbreak of listeriosis, which killed at least 12 people after they consumed deli meats from a Toronto meat plant. During the crisis, Canadians learned for the first time about Harper's recent attempts to deregulate the meat industry. The prime minister said last week that a public inquiry into the outbreak would be held after a general election is called. But the opposition says the announcement aims to deflect questions about how the Conservative government's policy changes may have contributed to the deadly outbreak.