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Gay marriage, finance scandal and star astronaut heat up Canadian election
Thu Dec 1,12:39 AM ET - AFP
The most bitter Canadian election in decades has barely started and already the campaign is preoccupied by a star astronaut's surprise plunge into the campaign and battles over corruption and same-sex marriage.
The winter campaign kicked off Tuesday, a day after opposition parties united to topple Prime Minister Paul Martin's scandal-tainted minority Liberal government in a no-confidence vote.
The election will be on January 23 and the latest polls showed the Liberals tied with the opposition Conservatives.
On Wednesday, the Liberals grabbed the spotlight when Martin announced that Marc Garneau, Canada's first astronaut and director of the nation's space agency, would run for the party in a rural district near Montreal.
Garneau, 56, became a Canadian hero when he flew on a US space shuttle mission in 1984 and two subsequent space missions.
The Liberals hope that Garneau's star power will give them a much-needed lift in the French-speaking province of Quebec, where the party is dogged by the corruption allegations.
Martin's party is accused of receiving kickbacks from advertising firms awarded millions of dollars in government contracts from 1995 to 2002, when Jean Chretien was prime minister.
The money was meant to stem a growing separatist movement in Quebec, but the scandal resulted in a backlash and eventually led to the censure motion that forced the Liberals from office.
A damning preliminary report released in November by Justice John Gomery, though assigning no civil or criminal culpability, found Chretien was ultimately responsible for the scandal.
Martin, finance minister at the time and a Chretien rival, was exonerated in the inquiry.
But he was hardly helped in his campaign to win back Quebec voters when Chretien revived the scandal this week by accusing the judge of bias.
In a federal court challenge Wednesday, Chretien brought the case back into the headlines when he called Gomery's conclusions "erroneous, perverse (and) capricious."
His lawyer said the timing was not intended to torpedo Martin's electoral hopes, according to reports, but it hardly helped the Liberal effort.
Meanwhile, Conservative leader Stephen Harper resurrected the divisive issue of same-sex marriage back into the center of politics when he pledged to ask parliament to repeal Canada's new same-sex marriage law if he is elected prime minister.
Harper told reporters he hoped to restore the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman via a free vote in the House of Commons.
But his move mainly served to stoke election passions by reviving the debate over the law, which sharply divided the country before it was enacted in June.
Opponents quickly denounced the move, saying Harper would have to override rights enshrined in Canada's Charter of Rights with a never-before used constitutional clause.
His move could backfire. Harper's opposition to gay marriage, opposed by a majority of Canadians, scuttled his chance to become prime minister in the last election 17 months ago, according to observers.
More than 3,000 gay couples have wed since the law was passed. These unions would be preserved, Harper said.