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The campaign that was

Globe and Mail Update

On Sunday, May 23, Paul Martin and his wife Sheila left 24 Sussex Dr. hand-in-hand for the short walk to Rideau Hall where the Prime Minister asked Governor General Adrienne Clarkson to dissolve Parliament.

Mr. Martin began the campaign he had waited more than 10 years for with two questions to voters.

"Do you want a Canada that builds on its historic strengths and values, such as medicare, generosity and an unflinching commitment to equality of opportunity?" he asked reporters and visitors on the steps Rideau Hall. "Or do you want a Canada that departs from much of its history -- a Canada that rejects its valued tradition of collective responsibility?"

The next five weeks produced one of the most bitter, negative and personal campaigns in Canadian history.

It is also the closest campaign in recent memory, with the Conservatives and Liberals in a dead heat as voters head to the polls. It has also left experts scratching their heads over what the political landscape will look like on the morning of June 29.

Maybe we should have just listened to Ed Broadbent.

The former NDP leader returned to the political scene in Ottawa Centre by playing prophet, predicting on Day 1 that the election would result in a minority government.

WEEK 1

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The leaders wasted little time going for each other's throats. Mr. Martin warned that the Conservatives would make Canada look like the United States, while Conservative Leader Stephen Harper accused the Liberals of running a campaign of fear and preaches integrity.

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe tapped into Quebeckers' anger over the sponsorship scandal, while NDP Leader Jack Layton lumped the Conservatives and the Liberals together as a bunch of reckless tax-cutters and pledged to bring positive energy to Parliament Hill.

Voters get their first taste of the health care debate when Mr. Martin rolls out a $9-billion-plus program that serves as the main plank of the Liberal platform. The plan is quickly dismissed by the other parties and gets a poor review from most of the provinces in what proves to be a listless start to the Liberal campaign.

Mr. Layton provided the first big controversy of the campaign by saying Mr. Martin is responsible for the deaths of Toronto homeless people by cutting affordable-housing programs when he served as finance minister. Not to be outdone, Conservative critic for official languages Scott Reid resigns after bucking the party line by calling for cuts to services for minority-language groups just four days after Mr. Harper promised a Quebec audience he would protect French inside and outside the province.

According to the first Ipsos-Reid poll of the election campaign, Liberals support is at 35 per cent of decided voters nationally, followed by the Conservatives at 26 per cent and the NDP at 18 per cent.

WEEK 2

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With polls showing Liberal support on the slide, Mr. Martin's campaign team calls former members of Jean Chrétien's campaign team for help. The same trend sees Mr. Harper asking a large number of Conservatives about how to prepare for a transition of power.

Conservative Party health critic Rob Merrifield created an uproar, suggesting a dramatic shift in abortion regulations by calling for third-party counselling for women who are considering terminating their pregnancies. Pro-choice advocates slam the proposal and Mr. Harper is forced to do damage control, insisting his party has no intention of passing new abortion laws.

Hot-button social issues overshadow Mr. Harper's election for the rest of the week, with his pledge to allow free parliamentary votes on abortion and capital punishment and refusal to rule out using the notwithstanding clause to outlaw gay marriage fanning the flames.

The Liberals step up the offensive by having Veterans Affairs Minister John McCallum and Immigration Minister Judy Sgro ambush Mr. Harper's election tour at two stops in the Greater Toronto Area. The Conservative leaders shrugs the incidents off as signs of a desperate party trying to cling to power.

The Green Party makes its first noise of the campaign, filing a formal complaint with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) over its exclusion from the televised leaders debates.

Mr. Harper ends the week by unveiling a platform rooted in big tax cuts and heavy spending on improving Canada's military and health care system.

According to Ipsos-Reid, the Liberals end the week one point ahead of the Conservatives, 32 per cent to 31 per cent, with the NDP at 17 per cent. The Green Party has 6 per cent.

WEEK3

Paul Martin begins Week 3 of the campaign by warning minority groups in Canada that a government led by Stephen Harper would put their rights in serious jeopardy. The issue comes into greater focus later in the week when the Conservative leader says laws protecting gays and lesbians from hate crimes need to be amended to allay the concern of church groups and others who fear their freedom of expression might be harmed.

Mr. Duceppe continued to press on the sponsorship scandal, calling on Mr. Martin to come clean on the issue and name the ministers who were politically responsible for the controversial program.

The latest poll numbers lead to whispers of a Bloc-Conservative coalition in the House, but both leaders dismiss the idea.

The Liberals began to show signs of crumbling from within when Ontario Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish slammed the progress of the campaign, calling it "a comedy of errors." Jean Chrétien's former chief of staff Jean Pelletier derides the state of the Liberal campaign and calls for the retraction of an allegation made by Public Works Minister Stephen Owen that he was involved in the sponsorship scandal.

David Herle, Mr. Martin's top political adviser, told a number of Liberal MPs and candidates in a conference call that the campaign is "in a spiral." The party tried to change its sagging fortunes with attack ads that feature a female voice saying that Mr. Harper wanted to take Canadian troops into Iraq, wants to limit a woman's right to choose, wants to ally with the Bloc Québécois and wants to spend heavily on military hardware.

Mr. Harper dismissed the ads, saying he will let the Liberals "descend into the gutter."

The NDP also hits a rough patch when Mr. Layton rebuked candidate Malcolm Azania for "completely and utterly unacceptable" anti-Semitic comments in a 1994 posting to an Internet newsgroup.

WEEK 4

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The week began with the two-hour French television debate. Mr. Martin spent most of the night on the defensive, with the other leaders attacked his government's record and accused him of corruption. Mr. Duceppe is considered the winner by most, opening the debate by telling Quebeckers that sovereignty is not an issue in the election and constantly chipping away at the Liberal leader.

The English debate the following night saw Mr. Harper and Mr. Martin duel over protecting minority rights and improving child care. Mr. Layton tried gamely to make his points as he called on Canadians to give the NDP a "central role" in the new Parliament to guard against the risks of Liberal arrogance and the Conservatives' "hidden agenda."

New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord joined Alberta premier Ralph Klein in endorsing Mr. Harper's Senate reform plan of electing senators.

Mr. Klein stumbled into in the middle of the campaign by announcing he would wait until two days after the June 28 election to unveil changes to Alberta's health system that might violate Canada's medicare law.

Mr. Martin jumped on the comments, charging that the Alberta Premier was hoping the Conservatives will win and allow the changes, including more services delivered through private clinics and user fees. Mr. Klein and Mr. Harper both insist their is no hidden agenda.

Mr. Harper also insisted he will hold Mr. Klein and other premiers to a national health accord the provinces reached with Ottawa last year, although he did not say if he would use the Canada Health Act to stop Mr. Klein.

The Conservative Leader steps into more controversy at the end of the week when his party issues a news release that accused Paul Martin and the NDP of condoning child pornography. Mr. Harper reworded and reissued the release, but refused calls to apologize to Mr. Martin.

WEEK 5

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Mr. Martin started the homestretch in full attack mode over health care, slamming Mr. Harper for not calling on Mr. Klein to reveal the details of his new health plan before voting day.

Mr. Klein's government bows under the immense pressure of the federal campaign and releases the details of its reform plan. The outline offers few specifics and takes a far less aggressive stance on privatization and users fees than Mr. Klein hinted it originally would.

His role as kingmaker all but assured, Mr. Duceppe says he would shop around and offer his support to a minority government based on the proposals for the Speech from the Throne.

Mr. Layton declares holding a national referendum within a year on proportional representation. will be a key condition of NDP support if a minority government is elected.

The final Ipsos-Reid poll shows that the Liberal Party has 32-per-cent support among decided voters, good for a one-point lead over the Conservative Party. The NDP stands at 17 per cent, while the Bloc Québécois is set to dominate in Quebec with 48-per-cent support.

A seat projection shows the Conservatives have the best chance of winning the most seats, though far short of a majority

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