INSPIRED by glowing polls and a buoyant economy, Canada's Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, has decided to tempt fate and his political legacy by calling a federal election a year and a half before the end of his term.
It is one of Ottawa's worst-kept secrets that Mr Chretien will visit the Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, today and ask her to dissolve parliament by signing the election writ. Polling will be on 27 November.
Although he risks a backlash for what is widely seen as brazen political opportunism, Mr Chretien and his Liberal Party advisers have decided it is worth that risk to attempt to crush the reorganised and revitalised official opposition party, the Canadian Alliance, before it can gain momentum.
Mr Chretien, one of the most savvy and long-serving federal politicians (he was first elected in 1962), is pursuing his own instincts against the wishes of most of his senior advisers and the Liberal MPs in his caucus in calling the early election. Most proposed that he wait until next year because a four-year term is more traditional in Canada. There is also a substantial faction within the governing Liberal Party which believes that, after 10 years as leader and seven-and-a-half as Prime Minister, Mr Chretien, who will be 67 in January, should step aside and give someone else a chance to lead. The most likely successor is the finance minister, Paul Martin, who is seen as responsible for the Liberals' fiscal miracle.
The Liberals inherited a C$42bn (pounds 19bn) annual deficit when they took power in 1993. By a combination of spending cuts, tax increases and the most sustained period of economic growth since the 1960s, the Liberals have turned that into a predicted $15bn surplus this year.
Mr Chretien, however, wants to win an unprecedented third consecutive majority. Once he has ensured his place in the history books, he is likely to retire in a couple of years.
For most of the past seven years, he and the Liberals have been hardly threatened in the House of Commons because the opposition has been divided among four squabbling parties, including the Canadian Alliance, which began as a breakaway from the Conservatives.
The reorganisation …