January 20, 2006

Canada’s Martin says rival anti-abortion extremist

By David Ljunggren

ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland (Reuters) - Canadian Prime
Minister Paul Martin, whose Liberals are facing defeat in
Monday's election, sought to portray his main rival on Friday
as an extremist with a hidden plan to ban abortion.

Polls show Stephen Harper's Conservatives set to win the
election, ending 12 years of rule by the centrist Liberals.

Martin has tried without much effect so far to highlight
what he describes as the extreme right wing of Harper's party
-- one he says is concealing plans to ban personal freedoms
such as gay marriage and abortion.

"What's going to happen after the election? Are these
social conservatives going to stay in hiding ... (or) are they
going to come out and start expressing their views, advancing
their causes?" Martin said at a rally in Atlantic Canada.

Social issues were hot buttons in the 2004 election, when
Martin beat Harper and won a minority government, and they have
returned to the fore in the final days of an often acrimonious
campaign. Canada has no restrictions on abortion, and Ottawa
legalized gay marriage last year.

Harper, dismissing Martin's recent attacks as a desperate
ploy, said earlier this week his government did not want to
raise the issue of abortion "in the near future."

He stressed on Friday he would not back attempts by
individual legislators to ban the practice.

"I was clear to people, as I've been throughout my
political career, that I don't want to pursue that issue," he
told reporters in Mississauga, Ontario.


Sharpening his attack as the day went on, Harper said
Canadians demanded the right to walk safely without being shot,
referring to a daytime shooting death in Toronto last month.

"Mr. Martin wants to talk about rights. These are the
rights I will defend," he told an evening rally of about 800

Martin quoted recent comments from Conservative candidates
that he said showed they were determined to outlaw abortion.

"Any Parliament with Stephen Harper as prime minister is a
Parliament which will put a woman's right to choose in
jeopardy," he told reporters.

A Strategic Counsel poll in Friday's Globe and Mail put the
Conservatives at 37 percent and the Liberals at 28 percent. The
firm had given the Conservatives leads of 16 to 18 points in
the previous two days, well above the range of other polls.

An SES tracking poll for CPAC television on Friday showed
the Conservatives with 36 percent support, 7 points ahead of
the Liberals. The gap was 1 point greater than that of the
previous day.

Both poll results, if translated into actual votes, would
point to a Conservative minority in Parliament. The Liberals
won a minority government in 2004 with 36.7 percent of the
popular vote to 29.6 percent for the Conservatives.

Martin, who admitted on Thursday for the first time that
Liberals had to work harder to stave off defeat, told
supporters in the Newfoundland capital, St. John's, that his
party could still win the election.

"We're marching toward a remarkable comeback. ... (Harper)
has been losing ground for the last number of days and we are
gaining and we are gaining big time," said Martin, whose
government was defeated in Parliament in November over a
kickback scandal.

Harper said Martin's attacks were designed to hide the fact
the Liberals had no vision for Canada.

"I don't think it's what people want to hear. I think
people want to know that a government is going to lead them in
a positive direction, and I also think that people know he's
doing this because he can't get past the scandals and
corruption," he said.

(Additional reporting by Randall Palmer with Harper)