Prime Minister Paul Martin raced across Canada to gain votes for his Liberal Party one day before voters go to the polls in a tight contest that could leave Canada with a minority government for the first time in 25 years. "I'm not taking anything for granted," Martin told reporters on a swing from Nova Scotia to Quebec, Winnipeg and Vancouver and finally back to his home precinct in Quebec.
When the last ballot is cast Monday night, analysts said, it is likely that no party will have captured the majority of parliamentary seats needed to form a strong government. National polls show the Liberals and the newly united Conservative Party almost even among decided voters. A poll released Saturday by EKOS Research showed the Liberals supported by 32.6 percent of voters, the Conservatives at 31.8 percent and the New Democratic Party (NDP) with 19 percent. The poll of 5,254 Canadians, with a 1.4 percentage-point margin of error, projected that the Liberals could win as many as 117 seats while the Conservatives could capture 109. But neither party is projected to win 155 of the 308 seats needed for a majority.
Martin took over from Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien in December and called this election earlier than required. As the campaign began in late May, the Liberals had 169 seats, the Conservatives 73, the NDP 14 and the Bloc Quebecois 33. Because of a financial scandal involving alleged corruption under the Liberal Party, its support has fallen sharply in the past few months, while support for the Conservative Party has grown.
Last week, Martin, who has conceded that the two main parties could each win only a minority of seats, declared that the party with a plurality should govern. "It's a common-sense proposition that the party that has the most seats is the party that certainly ought to form the government." But some analysts said Martin could try to remain in power even if the Liberals win fewer seats than the Conservatives.
Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader, has criticized Martin and the Liberals, saying, "The Liberal Party will do anything to stay in power. They will cut any deal. What we know about politicians who will cut any deal is that they cannot be believed." At another rally, Harper said Martin was desperate, saying he pushed out "a prime minister who had won three majority governments, and he's now taking that successful party to one of its most humiliating defeats in history."
Harper suggested the Liberals could try to form a coalition with the socialist New Democratic Party, which advocates higher taxes, or with the Bloc Quebecois, the party that was founded to achieve independence for the province of Quebec. "Isn't that wonderful," Harper said: "corruption, taxation and separation all in one administration."
By the time polls close Monday, the question of who will form the new government is unlikely to be answered.
If neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives win a majority, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, Queen Elizabeth II's representative to Canada and the official head of Canada's Parliament, will make the decision after hearing from the various parties. The party that wins the majority of seats in Parliament normally governs Canada, a constitutional monarchy. The leader of the party with the majority of seats becomes the prime minister. When there is no clear majority, however, a party could seek a coalition with another party and govern as long as it can win a vote of confidence in the House of Commons.