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Liberals Win Majority in Canada

By Mary Williams Walsh and Craig Turner
Los Angeles Times

TORONTO

Canadians went to the polls Monday and elected a majority Liberal Party government, to be led by Jean Chretien, a 59-year-old French-speaker from Quebec.

At the end of a campaign season characterized by greater partisan, linguistic and regional division than this country has known in decades, voters here delivered a scathing rebuke to the Progressive Conservative Party, which has governed since 1984.

With the polls still open at 8 p.m. PDT in British Columbia, it was unclear whether Prime Minister Kim Campbell would manage to retain her own seat in Vancouver, a seat she won in 1988 by a negligible, 269-vote margin. What was overwhelmingly clear, though, was that the voters had rejected Campbell's party and its track record of conservative economics and free international trade.

Chretien, a small-town lawyer who speaks English with a pronounced French-Canadian accent, stands for a centrist set of policies including job creation through public works, gentle budget cuts and a looser monetary policy.

Chretien also promised during his campaign to work for revisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement, although the changes he seeks are not likely to be extensive. He has been criticized throughout the campaign season for failing to present a detailed, coherent economic policy, and many analysts believe his party was elected simply because voters were angry with the Tories and frightened of everything else.

Although he is from a province that regularly threatens to secede, Chretien is a strong federalist who has openly ridiculed those who would make Quebec a separate state.

Within French-speaking Quebec, the Liberals lost to the separatist Bloc Quebecois. But they swept the four Atlantic provinces and the huge central province of Ontario.

What was unclear late Monday as Western Canadians continued to vote was what kind of opposition Chretien's Liberals would face in the next Parliament.

In Canadian politics, the party with the second-largest number of seats has the right to become "Her Majesty's loyal opposition," an official status that brings an official residence, government financing, a research staff and other perks.