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Canada's Chretien urges voters not to back regional parties


May 30, 1997
Web posted at: 8:12 p.m. EDT (0012 GMT)

WINDSOR, Ontario (CNN) -- As Prime Minister Jean Chretien campaigned Friday, he asked voters to renew his Liberal Party's mandate rather than support regionally based rivals.

Chretien, elected for a five-year term in 1993, called Monday's parliamentary election 18 months early, in part because an easy victory appeared likely. His government's main accomplishment has been to slash the federal deficit by more than two-thirds.

But with unemployment high and separatist rumblings still strong in his home province of Quebec, he's taking the campaign seriously.

"I need strong support from all parts of Canada, and only the Liberal Party can form the strong government that Canada needs to bring us into the 21st century," Chretien told supporters on the campaign trail.

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Ed Garsten reports

The Liberals are expected to win the biggest share of the 301 seats at stake in the election, but it remains to be seen whether they can hold onto their outright majority.

They now hold 174 seats, and must win 151 to avoid needing a coalition partner. The leader of the party with a majority in Parliament will become prime minister.

Charest the main competitor


Chretien's primary competition comes from a fellow Quebecker, Conservative Party leader Jean Charest. But Charest has been focusing his attention on Reform Party leader Preston Manning, portraying him as anti-Quebec and worse.

"Let me be clear -- Mr. Manning is a bigot," Charest said Thursday, referring to Reform's hard line toward Quebec.

Manning dismissed the charge as a sign of desperation.

"I think this is a sign, another sign of a big old party that finds it's not doing well in this election," Manning retorted.

Reform now holds 50 seats, all but one of them in the western provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.

'Get a grip'

Alexa McDonough heads the New Democratic Party. It's a small party with scant representation in Parliament and is given little chance to win a majority.

McDonough is making her pitch by attacking the competition. "Get a grip. The house is burning down and these guys want to talk about the blueprints," she said in an address.

Bringing up the rear is Guilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois, which favors independence for the mostly French-speaking province and is running candidates only in Quebec.

National campaigns in Canada are tidy and quick, with strict campaign spending laws, no primaries and a new law requiring that elections be held just 36 days after the prime minister calls them. No polls can be published in Canada within two days of election day.

Correspondent Ed Garsten and The Associated Press contributed to this report.  
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