TORONTO - Prime Minister Paul Martin kicked off Canada's election campaign Tuesday with a slim lead in opinion polls after his minority government was toppled in a no-confidence vote in Parliament.
Scheduling the vote for Jan. 23, Martin used his first campaign speech to tout Canada's strong economy, which has unemployment at a 30-year low and the government running a budget surplus.
"Canada has gone from pauper to powerhouse. Deficits are history - we've had eight surpluses in a row now, helping to keep our economy strong," he said.
Canada's three opposition parties allied to bring down Martin's government Monday night, arguing his Liberal Party did not have the moral authority to govern because of a scandal implicating some of its senior members in kickbacks and misuse of federal funds.
According to a Strategic Counsel poll conducted for the Globe and Mail newspaper, the Liberals held a six-point lead over the strongest opposition group, the Conservative Party, but have lost ground in their stronghold province of Ontario and face an increased desire for change.
The voters' desire for change is not lost on Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader who used the word 38 times in his first campaign speech. "We need change to make government more honest, more accountable, more democratic," he said.
Harper said a Conservative government would move to restore the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Martin pushed to legalize gay marriage throughout Canada.
Harper supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, but does not mention that now, probably because a wide majority of Canadians oppose the war. The Liberal Party refused to support the invasion.
John Shields, a political scientist at Ryerson University in Toronto, said that even if the Conservatives win the election, they won't have much power to pass conservative legislation. The party would would likely only win a minority government and that would make them dependent on support from the liberal-oriented Bloc Quebecois to pass legislation, he said.
Polls suggest the Bloc Quebecois would sweep the French-speaking province of Quebec, making a majority government in Ottawa unlikely no matter which party wins the most seats.