Image may overshadow economy as major issue in Canada's election

Prime Minister John Turner and the leader of the opposition are trying to run on economic issues in Canada's Sept. 4 election. But the pundits say it will be an election based on image.

In the first week of the campaign, Mr. Turner and Progressive Conservative leader Brian Mulroney made image-related moves, deciding in which areas they will run for parliamentary seats.

The two major political leaders are going back to their roots - Mr. Turner to British Columbia and Mr. Mulroney to Quebec. It isn't just sentiment that has brought this on. There are solid political reasons for both men to do so.

Mulroney ran in a district in Nova Scotia to have a seat in the House of Commons after he became Tory party leader last June. Now he is running in the northern Quebec district of Manicouagan, a sprawling area that includes Baie Comeau, the town where he grew up.

It takes courage to run in this district as a Conservative. For the people of Manicouagan, voting Liberal is as normal as getting up in the morning. But Mulroney has to run here to show Quebeckers they can vote Conservative.

The bilingual Tory leader will be hoping to win seats for the Conservatives in a province where that party now has only one sitting member out of 75 House of Commons seats. The last time the Conservatives did well in Quebec was 1958, when John Diefenbaker swept the country.

John Turner moved to British Columbia when he was 16 and went to the University of British Columbia. Next week the prime minister, who has been out of the House of Commons since 1976, will choose a district. For a Liberal there are no safe seats in British Columbia or, for that matter, in most of western Canada. The Liberals hold only two seats west of Ontario.

The Tories need seats in Quebec to win the election; the Liberals need seats in western Canada to be taken seriously as a national party, not one representing just the big provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

John Turner hopes to bring a few other western Liberals into Parliament with him. But it is a different set of roots that the Conservative and Liberal leaders head back to. John Turner was the stepson of a lieutenant-governor of British Columbia, the Queen's representative in that province and the top rung on the social ladder.

Brian Mulroney is the son a foreman at the paper mill in Baie Comeau. Mulroney likes to brag that he drove a truck to put himself through university.

But both men seem intent on talking business and how to get the sluggish Canadian economy going.

''The international financial situation is unsettling, our public debt is growing too fast, and we need a renewal of confidence and certainty in this country,'' Turner said in calling the election. In the first few days after he announced the election, money markets showed their lack of confidence in Canada. The Canadian dollar dropped almost a cent to below 75 cents in terms of United States money. This is an issue that could hurt the Liberals. But the alternative - raising interest rates to support the dollar - is even less politically appetizing.

Mulroney landed in trouble this first campaign week after a leaked document said that Conservative election promises would cost $20 billion. In western Canada last week, Mulroney promised to abolish capital gains tax on farms, end the federal sales tax on fuels, and revamp the taxation system in a way that would benefit western Canada's oil and gas business.

The Liberals are ahead in the polls but pollsters say it still is hard to pick a winner because regional voting patterns are sometimes more important that national polls.

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