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Canada's Liberals begin to rebuild strength in Tory stronghold -- Ontario

The 42-year rule of Ontario's Conservative Party seems certain to come to an end this month. In an election held last month in Canada's most populous province, the Progressive Conservative Party won the most seats -- by a whisker. The Tories got 52 seats to 48 for the Liberals; the socialist New Democratic Party got 25.

Recent polls pinned the downturn in the Liberals' fortunes to the unpopularity of Premier Frank Miller -- he got the job only this year -- and dissatisfaction with a party that had been in power that long.

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After the vote, the negotiating began. The Conservatives courted the New Democrats, whose young leader, Bob Rae, had been catapulted into the role of kingmaker. He had a condition for a deal: There should be no election in the province for two years. Mr. Miller said that was undemocratic, and there was no deal.

The Liberal leader, David Peterson, had no such qualms. He signed the deal -- it is written down -- which outlines the NDP's agenda for supporting the Liberals. It includes the no-election-for-two-years clause.

All that remains in this arrangement is to get rid of the ruling party.

The first step came last week with the reading of the Speech from the Throne, which outlines the government's plans for this session of parliament. After a debate of several days the opposition will call a vote of no-confidence in the government.

Enter the lieutenant governor, John Black Aird. Under the British parliamentary system, the lieutenant governor is the representative of the Queen. Usually this is all a formality but now Mr. Aird will have to make a real decision.

The lieutenant governor has two choices upon hearing the government has been defeated: Dissolve Parliament and call a new election, or ask another person to take on the job of premier. Miller seems to think he may be able to hang on. But others offer little hope for the Tories.

There has been debate about just what the lieutenant governor should do. Canada's foremost constitutional expert, Sen. Eugene Forsey, says there is no question.

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``If the newly elected House defeats Premier Frank Miller, the constitutional duty of the lieutenant governor is to call on the leader of the opposition,'' Senator Forsey says. To do otherwise and call an election, he says, would be ``an affront to common sense and an expensive outrage upon the people of this province.''

If the Liberals gain power, Ontario will have the only provincial Liberal government in Canada.

Mr. Peterson comes from out of nowhere to be a national political force. He will be a contender if, in a few years, the national Liberals look for a replacement to their present leader, John Turner.

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