Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called a snap election, sending voters to the polls for an October 14 vote that will largely focus on an uncertain economy.

“Between now and October 14, Canadians will choose a government to defend their interests at a time of economic instability around the world,” Mr Harper said on Sunday after asking the governor-general to dissolve parliament.

In recent weeks Mr Harper had repeatedly argued that his government, which holds a minority of seats in the House of Commons, was unable to function properly.

Falling US demand for goods and unstable commodity prices have stalled Canada’s economy. It grew only 0.1 per cent in the second quarter, after contracting in the first quarter.

Economists predict the stagnation will continue well into next year, which likely influenced Mr Harper’s decision to call a vote now before an unsteady economy further overshadows his government’s agenda.

Mr Harper will also argue that at a time of economic uncertainty, voters should not risk electing a different leader. After years of prosperity and annual budget surpluses that date back to 1997, government spending has increased dramatically.

But uncertain energy prices, mixed with the shadow cast by economic struggles in the US, caught politicians off-guard and of late the government has announced a series of cash injections to prop up the hardest hit industries, especially manufacturers.

Besides the economy, Mr Harper also hopes to get a new mandate before other key issues - brewing scandals, rising Canadian casualties in Afghanistan and a new president in the US - come to a head and raise questions of Mr Harper’s record.

The lead opposition party, the Liberals, will run on leader Stéphane Dion’s environmental “green shift” plan, which calls for a carbon tax on the use of fossil fuels, juxtaposed by personal and corporate tax cuts.

His challenge will be in convincing Canadians to vote for environmental initiatives when economic concerns increasingly dominate public debate. Mr Dion has also taken a traditional Liberal approach, arguing that Mr Harper has a hidden agenda and “wants Canada to be a very right-wing country”.

Mr Harper and his Conservative Party took office in February 2006 aiming to re-establish the Conservatives as a legitimate governing party. In doing so, he argued that the Liberal Party, which ruled Canada for 55 of the 71 years prior to Mr Harper taking office, had become complacent with power.

To win a majority in the upcoming election, Mr Harper will have to convince new constituencies— namely in British Columbia and Quebec— that his agenda will see the country through its economic struggles. To highlight the importance of those two regions, Mr Harper will make Quebec City and British Columbia his first two campaign stops on Sunday.

Most surveys show the Conservatives and Liberals with near-equal support. But a Leger Marketing poll released Friday showed Conservative support in Quebec has grown since the last election, in light of the Quebec separatist party’s falling popularity.

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