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PM sets election date for January 23

[PoliticsWatch Updated 11:15 p.m. November 29, 2005]

OTTAWA  — Prime Minister Paul Martin said Tuesday morning that he is holding a longer than normal election campaign because important national issues are at stake.

Martin met with Governor General Michaelle Jean on Tuesday morning and she agreed to dissolve Parliament, a night after the Liberals lost the first pure vote of non-confidence in a federal government in Canadian history.

Martin set an election date for Monday, January 23. The leaders are expected to call an unofficial truce during the week between Christmas and New Year's, but Martin is extending the campaign two weeks longer than the minimum required.

In the last election campaign, the Conservatives got off to a quick start, were leading in many polls by the midway point, but started tripping up in the final two weeks. 

Many Liberals believed following the last election campaign that Martin could have won a majority had the campaign lasted two more weeks. 

"There are important national issues at stake here," Martin said speaking to reporters outside of the Governor General's residence.

Martin listed child-care agreements, health care and Canada's role in the world as the issue of national importance.

One thing Martin did not list is the issue the other opposition party leaders are certain to focus on - integrity and ethics. 

That was an issue that Harper had peppered in his speech outside the chamber of the House of Commons. 

Harper also continued to stand behind his comments last week in the House suggesting the Liberals worked with organized crime in the sponsorship scandal. 

The Liberals have demanded Harper apologize for the comments and even sent him a letter from lawyers threatening to sue if he brought it up again. 

On Tuesday Harper said the Gomery inquiry heard testimony about money laundering, kickback schemes and threats and intimidation. 

"I don't think I need to say more," he said. "That's the definition of organized crime where I come from."

But another new theme Harper has added to his mantra of ending "waste, mismanagement and scandal" is "change."

Hoping to capitalize on polls showing an urge for change in the electorate, Harper used the word "change" numerous times in his speech and then tried to mention change at least once in every question he answered from reporters. 

He also outlined what will be the rough themes of his campaign - clean up government, cut taxes and get tough on crime. 

While Harper was taking questions from reporters, NDP Leader Jack Layton was downstairs holding a press conference. 

For Layton the biggest issue he will face is how his party will not get trampled in what is shaping up to be a two-way fight for their political lives between Harper and Martin outside of Quebec.

In the final week of the last campaign, the NDP admits the Liberals were effective in getting NDP voters to vote Liberal as a way of preventing Harper from becoming prime minister. 

Layton said he does not think it will happen this time around. 

"I think this time what Canadians will see is that New Democrats really do produce results in Parliament," Layton said in reference to the NDP's budget deal with the Liberals in the spring.

With that, the 39th general election is off. 

Martin will attend a rally at a local Ottawa bar Tuesday afternoon then travel to Montreal. NDP Leader Jack Layton will travel to Toronto for his riding nomination meeting. And Harper will head to Quebec City.

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