Liberals, Tories seek to bridge Canada's east-west divide

Canada's Liberals and Progressive Conservatives are engaged in an all-out attempt to establish themselves as truly national parties during the current general election campaign.

The Liberals, in particular, have been seen as only the party of Ontario and Quebec, while the Conserva-tives have remained firmly entrenched since the late 1950s in the sparsely populated but resource-rich west.

Prime Minister John Turner told an audience in Edmonton, Alberta, as he kicked off his national campaign in the heart of Tory territory recently, ''I know the sense of frustration you have felt ... (and) I intend to bring western Canadians back into the mainstream of national life - back into the decisionmaking process.''

Along with Mr. Turner's pledge ''to make the west a true partner in confederation'' have come a number of election promises.

One in particular has westerners talking. The Liberals say there is no part of the National Energy Program that is sacred and that they plan to make changes to benefit provinces, consumers, and Canada.

Another Liberal policy would end a decade of federally administered pricing. This policy, due to take effect this fall, allows western natural gas producers to bargain individually with their American customers.

For their part, the Conservatives would also make changes to the National Energy Program. And they have a host of election promises for the west.

All this sudden attention, especially from the Liberals, is making some suspect that this is just an attempt to increase the national scope of the party.

According to the president of the Canada West Foundation, an independent research group, the politicians must show Canadians they are capable of turning the economy around and slowing the decline of the country's standard of living. Dr. David Elton of Calgary says one way to do this is to invigorate the energy industry. He adds: ''It is part of a much larger issue which is called the economy, and it is seen as one of the essential elements in the economy.''

Canada's youth are hardest hit by record unemployment, now running at 11.2 percent, or 1.4 million workers. Among youths between the ages of 15 and 24, the rate soars to 17.3 percent.

The Conservatives' Brian Mulroney says the federal election will be fought over three issues: ''Jobs, jobs, jobs.''

Given high unemployment, the slumping Canadian dollar, and rising interest rates, it would seem the Liberal legacy would assure an easy victory for the Conservatives.

But Mr. Mulroney is running in a remote district in Quebec that includes his birthplace, Baie Comeau. The Liberals hold 74 of the 75 seats in Quebec, and Mulroney will be going against a popular Liberal who won handily in 1980.

The district includes Schefferville, the mining community he shut down in 1982 as president of Iron Ore Company of Canada. Mulroney admits it won't be easy for him or any other Tory to win in Quebec. But he says he feels a ''duty to seek to extend (Tory) support in Quebec.''

John Turner has managed to top the polls, but his 11-point lead may be slipping. A recent poll commissioned by a major Canadian newspaper chain suggests a high degree of volatility among the electorate. It showed the Liberals and Conservatives in a dead heat.

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