gains by Conservatives put Prime Minister Paul Martin's
Liberal Party on the defensive Wednesday as campaigning for
a new Canadian government grew increasingly ugly in
its final days.
Both parties unleashed a series of negative TV
ads in the run-up to the January 23 vote. The Liberals
have ruled since the last Conservative government
under Brian Mulroney in 1993.
Martin's minority government was toppled in a
no-confidence vote by parliament in November, with his
opponents claiming the Liberals had lost the moral
authority to govern. They had seized on a scandal in which
some senior Liberal Party members were caught in a
kickbacks scheme involving the misuse of millions of
dollars in federal funding.
Martin's poll numbers began slipping
dramatically last week when it was revealed that the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police were investigating a
possible leak by government officials that appears to have
influenced the stock market.
Meanwhile, Martin unveiled the Liberal Party
platform. He reiterated his pledge to call for a
constitutional amendment making it impossible to
repeal minority rights. A clause in the constitution allows
federal and provincial governments to pass legislation
to override a federal bill of rights adopted in 1982.
Though no federal government has used the
clause, Martin implied a Conservative government might
do so to weaken minority rights, including a woman's
right to abortion. "I don't believe a prime minister can
cherry-pick rights," Martin said.
Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper has
said he supports the constitutional clause but pledged
not to invoke it to overturn legislation by Liberals
last year that legalized same-sex marriage, even
though he's opposed to the concept. (AP)