Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on Saturday dissolved Parliament and announced elections Nov. 21 in a bid to keep alive his free-trade agreement with the United States.
Mulroney is gambling that his majority Progressive Conservative government will be the first to return with a majority since the Liberals did it in 1953."I invite Canadians to judge our record," he said outside Government House after consulting with Gov. Gen. Jeanne Sauve.
Flanked by three maple leaf flags, he promised the Progressive Conservatives will offer "an agenda of confidence for Canada," with the free-trade pact very much a centerpiece of the campaign.
The main opposition Liberals and the socialist New Democratic Party oppose the trade agreement and say it would destroy Canada's sovereignty.
Liberal Leader John Turner welcomed Mulroney's announcement. He accused Mulroney of trying to make Canada "a colony of the United States" with the plan.
"We're going to be saying to Canadians: This is more than an election, this is your future," Turner said.
Turner's Liberals control the unelected Senate and have been blocking the free-trade deal there. The agreement has been passed by the House of Commons but must get Senate approval before taking effect.
Turner has promised the Senate blockade will be lifted if Mulroney wins a majority in the election for the 295 seats in the Commons.
Mulroney had been waiting for an encouraging sign before calling the election. The sign came Thursday with the release of a poll indicating the Conservatives with 40 percent support, compared with 31 percent for the Democrats and 26 percent for the Liberals.
If Mulroney wins in November, the world's two largest trading partners will proceed with plans to create a North American free trade zone on Jan. 1. The pact will eliminate tariffs and a number of other trade curbs over 10 years.
If Mulroney loses, the Liberals and the Democrats, led by Ed Broadbent, say they will tear up the deal.
The trade agreement was approved by the U.S. Senate on Sept. 19 and signed by President Reagan but remains frozen until Canada's Senate also passes it.
Mulroney said the agreement would create more jobs in Canada.
During his speech Saturday, he also called for an agreement with the United States to cut emissions that cause acid rain, and he urged a nationwide effort to curb pollution in Canada.
In addition to he free-trade deal, other issues expected to dominate the election include integrity in government. Mulroney faced a number of scandals involving cabinet ministers and party members.
Jobs will likely be a major issue.