VANCOUVER, British Columbia — With less than a week to go before the Jan. 23 federal elections in Canada, parties are scrambling to win votes and seats. In particular, the two frontrunners, the Liberal and Conservative parties, are making a big last-minute push for votes.

With polls indicating that the Conservatives, or Tories, are running ahead of the Liberals, Liberal leader Paul Martin, promising tax cuts, greater spending on education, health care and a universal daycare system, is warning that a vote for the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) will split the left-wing vote, and result in a Conservative victory at the polls.

Martin warned that the Tories will slash social programs and run up deficits, as it did in Ontario during the mid 1990s. He is therefore urging NDP voters to cast their ballots for Liberal Party candidates to prevent a Conservative win.

However, critics, including Conservative leader Stephen Harper, have berated Martin for his stance. Harper said that “the era Mr. Martin talks about, 1995 — this was the era when he [as Liberal Party finance minister] was cutting unemployment insurance, cutting health care, cutting education, cutting all vital social programs of Canadians.”

The Conservatives have successfully been able to exploit the widespread public desire for change, promising to cut taxes, implement strong measures to combat crime, increase defense spending, reduce medical waiting lists and to hold another vote in Parliament to reverse last year’s passage of a same-sex marriage equality law.

The Tories are also promising to form a clean government, free of corruption and scandal. A number of scandals have tarnished the Liberals over the last few years. For instance, during the 1990s, the governing Liberal Party was funneling money to advertising firms in Quebec who were then making kickbacks to the Liberals.

On the left, NDP leader Jack Layton is fighting to prevent the Liberals from stealing NDP votes and marginalizing his party, which as of late November held 18 seats in the House of Commons. The NDP is social-democratic in orientation, and has strong ties with the country’s labor movement. In the 2004 elections, Martin was able to rob the NDP of seats by frightening the electorate with the prospect of a Conservative victory unless they voted Liberal.

The NDP is proposing greater social spending and measures to save Medicare and to strengthen the environment.

Communist Party of Canada (CPC) leader Miguel Figueroa is touring the country, urging voters to elect a large bloc of NDPers, Communists and left Greens to Parliament. All three parties are campaigning to change the electoral system to one of proportional representation, whereby parties would get parliamentary seats based on their share of the vote.

The CPC is running 21 candidates across the country. The Communists are campaigning to pull Canada out of NAFTA, strengthen the country’s industrial base, increase taxes, reduce the workweek with no cut in pay, increase social spending and protect health care.
In the closing days of the campaign, CPC leader Miguel Figueroa was directing his main fire at the Tories and their “reactionary, pro-U.S. and anti-working class agenda,” but said, “Regardless of the outcome, it is clear that the main battleground — to save Medicare, to oppose the gutting and privatization of public services, to defend Canadian sovereignty, and to oppose imperialist aggression and war — will once again shift to the extra-parliamentary arena” after the elections.

The Green Party, which is campaigning on a center-left platform that includes measures to clean up the environment, tax reform, and welfare measures to help the poor, has so far be unable to make the big breakthrough they hoped for.

The Bloc Quebecois, promising to strengthen Quebec sovereignty and protect the province’s interests in Ottawa, is maintaining its popular support in Quebec.

Instead of urging its 3 million members to vote NDP, the Canadian Labor Congress is distributing 1 million leaflets in the remaining days of the campaign on important issues such as health care, pensions, pay equity, jobs and anti-scab legislation.

“Our members don’t want anyone to tell them how to vote. They want to know what the issues are,” said CLC President Ken Georgetti. “They want to know who is standing up for the interests of working people in this country.”