Canadians will head to polls on October 14 in a national election after Prime Minister Stephen Harper ended weeks of speculation Sunday by
pulling the plug on his own minority Conservative government.
Speaking to reporters outside the Governor General's residence in Ottawa, Harper announced that he asked Michaelle Jean, the Queen's representative in Canada, to dissolve parliament.
"Between now and October 14, Canadians will choose a government to look out for their interests at a time of global economic trouble," Harper said after meeting with Jean.
"They will choose between direction or uncertainty; between common sense or risky experiments; between steadiness or recklessness."
Harper's call for new elections - the third time Canadians will be asked to go to polls in the past four years - raised the heckles of opposition parties, who accused the Conservative prime minister of breaking his own fixed election date legislation.
The election will pit the Conservatives, who formed a minority government in January 2006, against their traditional rival the Liberal Party, which governed Canada for 13 years prior.
The Liberals, still smarting from a debilitating internal strife between supporters of former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, are also facing stiff competition for the left-of-centre vote from the newly resurgent socialist New Democratic Party and the fledgling Green Party.
And all four federalist parties - the Tories, the Liberals, the NDP and the Greens - are hoping to make forays into the French speaking province of Quebec, where the majority of seats are held by the separatist Bloc Québecois party.
Canada's slowing economy, the Liberal proposal for introducing a highly controversial carbon tax legislation, leadership and enforcing sovereignty over the rapidly melting Arctic are turning up as the main issues in the 37-day campaign.
The Liberals, led by former environment minister Stephane Dion, are planning to fight the election on a platform of a major tax overhaul to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions called "Green Shift."
Dion has blasted the Conservatives for abandoning Canada's commitments to the Kyoto protocol on reducing greenhouse gases and siding with the United States on climate change issues.
"Stephen Harper has formed the most conservative government in our history," Dion said in the foyer of the House of Commons.
But the Tories argue that Dion's "Green Shift" is a dangerous idea in uncertain economic times.
"The opposition insists on large-sale spending and a new tax. But even they admit that their carbon tax proposal is a work in progress," said Harper. "This tax will pack a cost on to every expenditure every family and every business makes."
Surprisingly, Canada's controversial combat mission in southern Afghanistan, which has cost the lives of 96 Canadian soldiers, the highest per-capita of any NATO country, has not grabbed public attention yet.
Recent public opinion polls have put the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals, indicating that they are within reach of a majority government. And Dion, a bookish policy wonk, trails both Harper and NDP leader Jack Layton in a leadership survey, dpa reported.