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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006, 13:40 GMT
Q&A: Canada's general election
Canadian voters head to the polls on 23 January 2006, in an early general election. The BBC News website looks at the main campaign issues and the events that triggered the vote.

Wasn't there an election just over a year ago?

The centre-left Liberal Party, headed by Prime Minister Paul Martin, was elected in 2004, but fell in a no-confidence vote late last year.

MPs were angered by continuing revelations surrounding an inquiry into a corruption scandal involving government money and Liberal party members in the French-speaking province of Quebec in the 1990s.

A government report found that Liberals in Quebec systematically channelled at least C$100m (48.7m; $86m) in government funds to advertising and communication agencies with ties to the party, for little or no work. In its interim findings, a judicial inquiry said that some of the money ended up in party coffers.

The scandal cost the Liberal Party its majority in the 2004 election.

Although cleared of personal involvement, Mr Martin was unable to defend himself against opposition pressure when an alliance with the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP) collapsed.

What is at stake?

The Liberal Party has been in power for more than a decade, during which time the main opposition right-wing conservative parties struggled with splits until they merged into the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) in 2003.

Newly reunited and with ammunition, the CPC has chipped away at the Liberal majority.

What are the main issues?

All three main opposition parties (the CPC, New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois) have pledged to focus on clean government.

The issue took centre stage in late December, when police announced that they were investigating a possible leak from the finance ministry, ahead of a federal government announcement on income trusts taxation. There have been allegations that a number of people in the know were able to profit from the information.

Among the main policy differences is health care reform. The Tories want to allow for public and private health care provision, and, along with the Liberals, have pledged to shorten waiting times. The Liberals and the NDP have vowed to stop any privatisation of the system.

On gun control, the Liberals have promised to move towards a ban on handguns, which are already tightly regulated, and consider tightening gun crime laws.

On defence, the Tories say they would boost resources to protect Canada's interests in the Arctic, and implement a "Canada First" defence policy. The NDP says it would make peacekeeping a priority for Canadian troops.

The Tories have pledged to balance the budget by saving C$22bn (US$18.9bn; 10.7bn) by slowing growth in federal spending, but the Liberals say the move could cost up to C$40bn (US$34.4bn; 19.5bn) over five years.

Potential Liberal losses in the French-speaking province of Quebec have raised the potential for gains there by the separatist Bloc Quebecois. Both the Tories and the Liberals have pledged to promote Canadian unity while defending Quebec's interests.

The Tories and Liberals have also battled over the issue of negative campaign ads, with both sides accusing the other of adopting US-style, attack-advertising tactics.

Negative ads have featured in past campaigns, but some say this election's have been particularly fearsome.

Who might win?

Opinion polls taken at the time the election was called suggested the Liberal Party was likely to return to office, although still as a minority government.

However, the Conservative Party has steadily gained momentum and support, and a recent opinion poll by the Strategic Counsel placed it 13 percentage points ahead of the Liberals.

If the surveys are correct, the CPC could head the government for the first time in more than 10 years, with a stable majority.

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