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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.

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