VANCOUVER, Canada – On May 23 Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin called new elections for June 28. While eight parties are competing, polls show the Liberal and Conservative parties as frontrunners.

Liberal Party leader Martin promises to maintain and improve Canada’s public health care system and social safety net if re-elected.

Steven Harper’s Conservative Party promises a 25 percent tax cut for middle-income citizens and corporations and an increase in spending on health care and defense.

Martin challenges Harper’s commitment to social programs, saying that tax cuts would undermine the federal government’s ability to maintain health care and social services.

He points out that Harper has advocated greater private sector involvement in health care, something that would undermine Canada’s socialized system.

The Quebec-based nationalist Bloc Quebecois – the third largest party in Parliament – is campaigning to maintain its presence in Ottawa to safeguard Quebec’s interests.

On the left, the New Democratic Party (NDP), led by charismatic leader Jack Layton, is calling for more social spending, protection of public health care against privatization, stronger environmental measures, the introduction of proportional representation and opposition to Canadian involvement in the U.S.-sponsored anti-missile shield.

Layton has been able to raise the party standing in the polls from 9 percent to 17 percent.

The Communist Party (CPC) is running 50 candidates, campaigning for the election of a progressive majority to Parliament. The CPC is calling for greater social spending, policies to create more employment such as reduction of the workweek, and the implementation of proportional representation.

The Green Party – which regularly receives 4-5 percent in the polls – is calling for tax cuts and the creation of “green” jobs.

The left parties are also taking aim at Martin’s policies. Since the 1990s, the Liberal government – in which Martin played a key role as finance minister – has pursued a right-wing agenda, signing the North American Free Trade Agreement, cutting expenditures for social programs and health care and reducing taxes for the wealthy.

CPC leader Miguel Figueroa charged, “The Martin government represents an even further shift to the right. … The recent budget makes clear that Martin’s government will continue tight fiscal policies, slashing funding and privatizing services, paying down debt while increasing military spending, and cutting corporate taxes – all to the benefit of its wealthy friends and benefactors.”

The author can be reached at tpelzer@sprint.ca.

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