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Canadian Angst Seen in Growth Of Small Parties

TELEVISION power to the people.

When political historians look back at Canada's 1993 election campaign, they may conclude that a significant moment for this country's democracy was the emergence of this nation's ``small'' parties - on television.

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In early October, candidates from three ``major'' parties and the two largest regional parties debated in French one night, and in English on the next.

But for viewers who still had not made up their minds, the Oct. 5 debate among seven of nine small parties was a first. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Newsworld network aired the live debate among the parties, whose views ranged from Marxism to Libertarianism, from the Green movement to the religious right.

``The growth of these parties represents real dissatisfaction with the major parties,'' says Peter Desbarats, dean of journalism at the University of Western Ontario and mediator of the debate.

The tiny protest parties together typically only garner between 1 and 3 percent of the popular vote. Yet the their increased prominence is a barometer for Canadians' discontent with mainstream parties and the political process, political analysts say.

``In the last decade, the alienation from the political process in Canada has grown quite substantially,'' says Fred Fletcher, a political scientist at York University. ``In the United States it seems to manifest itself in not voting. Here it is represented in the number and strength of small parties.''

The growing prominence of small parties in Canada has come as the three mainline parties - the ruling Progressive Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, and the New Democratic Party - have over time nearly merged at the ideological center on a variety of issues, political scientists say.

Proof that discontent is rife with the status quo, Professor Fletcher says, is seen in the stunning strength this year of the two largest protest parties: Reform Party, with its populist roots in Alberta, and Bloc Qucois (BQ), with separatist roots in Quebec.

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Both Reform and the BQ have just a handful of representatives in Parliament now. But polls show them possibly gaining so many seats in the Oct. 25 elections as to hold the balance of power in Parliament should a minority government take power.

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