By ALLISON DUNFIELD
Globe and Mail Update
In a move that surprised no one, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien officially called an election Sunday morning for Nov. 27.
Mr. Chrétien visited Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and asked her to drop the writ, meaning that for the next 36 days, Canada will be hit with election fever as the five official parties - the ruling Liberals, Opposition Canadian Alliance, Bloc Québécois, Progressive Conservatives and the New Democratic Party - battle for seats in the House of Commons.
"I enter this campaign taking nothing for granted ... but with conviction and confidence," Mr. Chrétien told reporters after he emerged from his meeting with the Governor-General.
"There are very important choices to make for the future, as we enter a age of large budget surpluses.
"Now is the time to make these choices."
He immediately went into campaign mode, the brilliant red leaves of maple trees behind him, lauding the "dynamic" economy and job creation he says his government has produced.
Mr. Chrétien had to ask Ms. Clarkson to dissolve the Parliament so he can call an election, set for Monday, Nov. 27.
The Prime Minister will begin campaigning for the third time in seven years. But the other four rival party leaders began their election campaigns a day early, announcing plans and platforms Saturday.
"It is an important way for Canadians to choose between different visions and different values," Mr. Chrétien said, referring to his party's main rival, the Canadian Alliance.
Mr. Chrétien said as Canadians enter a time of large budget surpluses, now is the time to choose a leader.
"The economy is a giant one," he said in French. "All around us we can feel optimism and confidence in the future," To Canadians, he said: "The choices we are offering are the best for them and for Canada."
He said Canadians do not want an American-style campaign that drags on for months and months.
"The election campaign begins officially at this moment but we all know it began unofficially months ago."
Mr. Chrétien maintained one reason he called the election was that Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day and the other parties had been campaigning for months.
"Mr. Day dared me to call an election."
He said the election will be a two-party race between the Liberals and the Alliance.
"This election offers two very different visions of Canada — two crystal clear alternatives. We want Canadians to compare our approach with the alternatives. The nature of that choice is now clear."
Mr. Chrétien defended calling the election even though some bills, such as employment insurance were left unpassed.
"EI was not passed because the Reform Party blocked Parliament," he said. "And the Bloc Québécois didn't want to pass the bill on EI reform."
Mr. Chrétien has called an election only 3½ years into his current term. He was re-elected in June, 1997 for his second term, the last time Canadians went to the polls. He still has 1½ years left in his mandate.
On Sunday, he began his whirlwind campaign, starting off in Ottawa. He will end up in London, Ont. Sunday night with stops in his home riding of Shawinigan, Que. and Trois-Rivieres.
The Tories are already criticizing the Liberals for calling an "unnecessary" election they say will cost taxpayers $200-million. The Alliance is countering the Liberals' recently released mini-budget with a campaign to lower taxes and a social conservative approach, and they have promised to continue to attack Mr. Chrétien for an Auditor-General's report showing Liberal mismanagement of funds.
Mr. Chrétien did not have to call an election until mid-2002, but is seeking to capitalize on a substantial lead in public opinion polls.
While a recent poll showed the the Liberals with more than 50-per-cent support, the Canadian Alliance is trailing at around 20 per cent. The Bloc has 10 per cent while the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democratic Party are virtually tied at around 8 per cent, according to an Ipsos-Reid poll taken in early October.
Some critics say that Canadian voters will punish Mr. Chrétien for calling an election on the rise of Liberal popularity and a strong Canadian economy. Some Liberal backbenchers, especially those from are uneasy about the fall election call. The Liberals have suffered in autumn election calls before. Onetime Liberal premier David Peterson gambled on an early vote and lost.
The election call was not a surprise because Mr. Chrétien has made several references to a Nov. 27 election in the past few weeks.
In the House of Commons on Thursday he said, in an exchange with Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day, "We are going into an election."
Then on Friday at a $1.5-billion announcement for renewal of the Toronto waterfront, Mr. Chrétien joked, "If my wife decides to tell me to go on Sunday, at least this problem will be off the table."
The election schedule from here is as follows: on Oct. 27, spending limits will be set by Election Canada. Nominations will close at 2 p.m. on Nov. 6, then advance polling will take place Nov. 17, 18, 19, 20. On Nov. 21, the voters list will be finalized. Voters left off can register at the polls on election day, which will be Nov. 27.
With a report from Jeff Gray