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All Leaders Claim Victory in English Language Debates

OTTAWA, August 12 — Political pundits called it an even fight, but that didn’t stop all party leaders and media representatives from claiming victory in last night’s English-language debates.

“I believe Stephen Harper articulated a compelling vision of Canada, distinct from the tired, old rhetoric of the other party leaders,” said Conservative media representative Steve Naylor. “He faced the attacks by the other party leaders and showed a statesmanlike bearing as he took them down one by one.”

Liberal representatives, of course, disagreed. “Stephane Dion came into tonight’s debates as an underdog, facing an incumbent prime minister and misconceptions about the quality of his English,” said Liberal media representative Jason Chern. “He defeated both, showing to all Canadians the sort of intelligence that is vital to have in the Prime Minister’s Office.”

The role of Canada’s military took centre stage in the 2008 debates, with discussions on Afghanistan mixing in with questions of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty. Stephane Dion talked about what he saw as the need to resolve Canada’s commitment to Afghanistan in order to redeploy resources along the Northwest Passage. Harper replied that maintaining Canada’s international commitments were vital to maintain a profile that would assist in protecting the sovereignty of Canada’s North. He also touted his government’s investment in new equipment for Canada’s military and derided the Liberal record on military spending. Jack Layton got into the debate talking about support for veteran pensions and protection of their jobs, while Gilles Duceppe questioned the worthiness of the Afghan mission altogether.

A lot of time was spent on environmental issues as well, with the three opposition leaders all attacking the government’s inaction toward meeting Canada’s commitments under the Kyoto Accord. Harper responded by citing the passage of the Clean Air Act and other government policies. The moderator, news anchor Steve Neuman, had to intervene several times to stop the leaders from talking over themselves.

But it was the issue of decorum in parliament that brought out the strongest words from all party leaders. The opposition leaders attacked Stephen Harper for ignoring opposition resolutions, filibustering Commons’ committees and showing contempt for the majority of voters who elected them to office. Harper fired back, accusing the three other leaders of wanting all the power of government, but none of the responsibility. It was these exchanges, experts agree, where Dion and Harper came the closest to losing their cool.

“This just shows Canadians yet another example of the sort of heated inaction they’ve seen from the top two parties,” said NDP leader Jack Layton to reporters outside the conference hall. “They must have had a frustrating time trying to listen in, and I’m sure they could not help but think that here are two people more interested in shouting each other down than they are in serving Canadians.”

Experts interviewed after the debates agreed that there were no gaffes, no knockout punches that marked previous debates, including the ones between John Turner and Brian Mulroney before the 1984 and 1988 elections. “Everybody held their own. Nobody flubbed their lines. The only difference between the 2006 debates is that Harper sounded less controlled and more human, and Stephane Dion sounded passionate, but quite academic,” said pollster Allen Reid.

39th Parliament Dissolved. Election Called for August 26

OTTAWA, July 22 - Prime Minister called a press conference after meeting with Governor General Michaelle Jean to confirm that the Governor General had dissolved parliament, and a general election has been set for Tuesday, August 26th.

“I am eager to go before the Canadian people, and place my record alongside that of my opponents, and let Canadians decide,” said Harper.

The government fell late last week when, frustrated by a year of fruitless negotiation, the Conservative Party brought forward a bill to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board and declared it a confidence issue. Despite last minute talks, the bill went to the floor for first reading and was soundly defeated by the opposition.

“This election is more than just about the future of the Canadian Wheat Board,” said Harper. “We have a campaign platform ready and we’ll go to the Canadian people with a sound plan to lower taxes, maintain a balanced budget, and reinvest in infrastructure. Canadians will have to decide what they want for the next four years: more gridlock in parliament, or a government with a strong mandate to get things done.”

Opposition leader Stephane Dion fired back in a press conference of his own. “Canadians are well aware of the record of this government. They are well aware that they handed this government tight restrictions in which to work, and now Stephen Harper is chastising them for their decision. Canadians will get to decide how to react to that.”

Jack Layton, after speaking to supporters at a campaign rally for Peter Dewar, MP for Ottawa Centre, spoke to reporters and predicted a strong showing for the NDP. “Canadians are getting used to the idea of minority parliaments. Thanks to the NDP, we’ve kept the big, mainstream parties on the hook and responsive to the needs of their constituents, and I think voters everywhere will want to continue that.”

Opinion polls show a dead heat between the governing Conservatives and the opposition Liberals, with the NDP just over ten points behind. A representative for pollster Ipsos Angus cautioned, however, about a large number of undecideds in the most recent samples. “The mainstream parties have got to be careful,” he said. “The voters seem particularly volatile.”

Campaigning begins in earnest tomorrow.

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