March 23, Canada's minority Conservative government looks set to be defeated in Parliament on Friday, triggering an immediate election campaign.
All three opposition parties said on Wednesday they would back a nonconfidence motion to be presented by the Liberals, the biggest opposition party. [ID:nN23287439]
Here is a look at Canada's major political parties.
The Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper were elected as a minority government in 2006 and reelected with a slightly stronger minority in 2008. The current party was formed from the 2003 merger of the former Progressive Conservative Party and the Western Canadian-based Canadian Alliance with the aim of uniting Canada's factious right wing. Polls have shown the Conservatives with a comfortable lead over the other parties, but just shy of what they would need to win a majority government.
The party steered Canada through the economic crisis without any major fallout. Cutting corporate and sales taxes has been the hallmark of its economic policy. But Harper was forced to compromise on his free-market idealism by introducing a huge stimulus program and plunging the country into deficit after a decade of surpluses. The government has promised to balance the books by 2015. On social policy, Harper has fought accusations that he would pursue far more right-wing policies if he had majority power. So far, the Conservatives have studiously avoided divisive issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
Sometimes called Canada's "natural governing party" because of its long periods in power, the Liberals promote themselves as progressive on social policies, but with tight fiscal management. The party likes to remind debt-wary Canadians that it was in charge when the country painstakingly eliminated a huge deficit in the 1990s. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff's chief proposal is to cancel the Conservatives' corporate tax cuts to pay for social programs that target the middle class and seniors. The party initially agreed with the tax cuts, which were legislated before the global economic crisis began, but says now is not the time to implement them.
A spring vote would be the first test of leader Michael Ignatieff, who took the party's helm after the Liberals' poor performance in the 2008 campaign. Ignatieff has fared poorly in the polls, battling a perception that he is elitist and out of touch after spending much of his career outside the country. The Liberals have helped keep the Conservatives in power since 2008 as the party worked to rebuild its finances and internal organization.
The Bloc Quebecois's purpose is independence for French-speaking Quebec. It only runs candidates in Quebec, but enjoys far more support there than the other major parties with left-leaning economic and social policies, and is again expected to win the majority of the seats in the province.
The Bloc's main role in the federal Parliament is to extract benefits for Quebec and promote a greater role for the province in managing its own affairs. The party wants Ottawa to pay the province C$2.2 billion in a tax compensation deal.
NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY
The New Democrats are to the left of the Liberals on the political spectrum, but were seen as the party most likely to support the Conservatives in the budget fight. But the NDP said the budget failed to meet some of its key demands for helping senior citizens and middle-class families. The party also opposes the Conservative corporate tax cuts. The NDP faces an extra campaign hurdle in that leader Jack Layton is recovering from prostate cancer and underwent hip surgery in early March.
The Green Party, which stresses environmental policy, does not have any seats in Parliament. Polls have shown it winning nearly 10 percent of voter support, which in some close races could have an impact on how the parties fare even if the Greens again win no seats themselves under Canada's first past the post voting system. (Reporting by Allan Dowd; editing by Janet Guttsman and Peter Galloway)