Canada votes, expected to re-elect Conservatives

Tue Oct 14, 2008 7:50pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadians voted on Tuesday in an election likely to give a renewed mandate to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the first Western leader to face the electorate since the financial market meltdown.

Since the financial crisis erupted, the focus of the 37-day campaign has narrowed to who would be the best manager in increasingly troubled economic times.

Polls showed enough voters sticking with Harper, although his support came off the highs it reached a few weeks ago. The election was expected to produce Canada's third minority government in four years.

The last poll of the campaign, by Ekos, projected the Conservatives would boost their seat count in Parliament at the expense of the main opposition Liberal Party, but would still be almost 20 seats short of the 155 needed for a majority.

Harper offered only modest tax breaks and spending initiatives, arguing a steady hand would get Canada through the turbulence that has hit world markets.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion, a bookish francophone who speaks hesitatingly in English, found it difficult at a time of relatively high energy prices to sell his plan for a new carbon tax to fight climate change, accompanied by income tax cuts and subsidies for the poor.

He started to cut into Harper's lead as he charged the prime minister, a former economist who is also fairly wooden, was not doing enough to prevent financial contagion from spreading into Canada.

But the Conservative lead over the Liberals widened again in parallel with specific action taken to improve Canadian bank liquidity, and analysts said the market rebound this week would make voters more optimistic.   Continued...

<p>Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks with his son Ben as he marks his ballot in Calgary, Alberta October 14, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>