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Canada to hold general elections in October

By Ajit Jain in Toronto
September 08, 2008 09:54 IST

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Sunday night announced that general elections will be held on October 14, a year before schedule.

"Between now and October 14, Canadians will choose a government to look out for their interests at a time of global economic trouble," he told reporters after meeting Governor-General Michaelle Jean.

'They will choose between direction and uncertainty; between common sense or risky experiments; between steadiness or recklessness.'

Harper, who has a minority in the Parliament, is hoping to secure a majority through the upcoming elections. The election will cost Canadian tax payers $300 million.

The outgoing Parliament has 308 legislators --127 Conservatives, 95 Liberals, 48 Bloc Quebecois and 30 NDP members.

There are 9 South Asian MPs in the Parliament-- four of them are from the Conservative party (Deepak  Obhrai, Rahim Jaffer, Nina Grewal and Wajid Khan).

The five Liberal South Asian MPs are Ujjal Dosanjh, Sukh Dhaliwal, Gurbax Malhi, Navdeep Bains, Ruby Dhalla and Yasmin Ratansi.

The Conservatives have already announced the names of the 14 South Asian candidates who will be contesting in the next elections and they include four incumbents.

The Liberals haven't as yet released their candidates' list, but all five incumbents are contesting again.

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion has criticised Harper for preponing the elections.

A recent opinion poll conducted by the Toronto Star shows Conservatives leading by 36 per cent support, the Liberals at 28 percent, the NDP at 18 percent, the Block Quebecois at 9 and the Green party at 8 percent.

Analysts in the country say that Harper's leadership will be pitted against Stephane Dion, who hails from the popular Liberal Party. 

The state of the economy is going to be one of the major election issues. Harper claims that the economy is in better shape than January 2006, when he took over as the prime minister. The Liberals disagree, arguing that the Conservatives have been spending the entire surplus from the national treasury. The economy will worsen if the Conservatives come back to power, the Liberals argue.

Analysts believe that Harper might be able to win a majority this time. But a majority in Parliament will pave the way for Harper's controversial policies -- more tax cuts and foreign policies influenced by the United States.

However, India and Indian-Canadians might want Harper to keep his post. Canada voted in support of the India-US civilian nuclear deal in the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers' Group. 

Canada has opened new offices in India to increase trade and investments between the two countries. 

Harper has publicly supported the Free Trade Agreement between the two countries and a draft of the proposal has already been submitted to the respective governments.

The Conservatives regaining power will definitely boost bilateral relations between Canada and India.

It remains to be seen if more South Asians are able to secure more seats in the Parliament in the coming elections.

The country's immigration policy is probably the most relevant issue for South Asians.

The long wait time for visa processing for spouses, children, parents, grand parents and even the visitors is a contentious issue. Sometimes, processing of visa applications by parents and grand parents, which have been duly sponsored by Canadian-Indians, takes as long as 4-5 years.

The Conservatives accuse the Liberals of leaving 8,00,000 such applications pending when they were voted out of power in January 2006.  Ironically, that figure is close to a million now.

The Liberals now point out that the there has been an improvement in the functioning of the Immigration Department.  The government needs to provide more resources for faster processing and do away with the present quota system of annual processing of only 250,000 applications.

Ajit Jain in Toronto