Early voting begins in Canada ahead of general election

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Stephen Harper's party currently holds a substantial lead in opinion polls

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Early voting has begun in Canada, ahead of the 2 May election to select a new federal government.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party holds a wide lead over rivals, recent polling suggests.

A Nanos Research survey of about 1,000 voters put the Conservatives on 37.8%, the Liberals on 26.7% and the New Democratic Party on 23.7%.

Mr Harper's minority government was forced into an election after a non-confidence vote in parliament.

The vote came after Mr Harper's government was found to be in contempt of parliament because of its failure to disclose the full costs of anti-crime programmes, corporate tax cuts and plans to purchase stealth fighter jets from the US.

Mr Harper has told Canadian voters the Liberal Party, the largest opposition party, led by Michael Ignatieff, cannot be trusted to handle the economy.

Mr Ignatieff has accused Mr Harper of deceit, and also says that Canadians have no confidence in his ability to look after the nation's finances.

'Greater access'

More than 4,000 advance polling facilities are expected to be active across Canada from noon until 2000 local time in each district on Friday, Saturday and Monday.

Elections Canada spokesperson Grace Lake told CTV that early polling was designed to give Canadians a more convenient option when they exercise their right to vote.

With the prospect of another minority government looming, record numbers of Canadians are expected to vote in the election.

A Canadian political party needs roughly 40% of the vote to win a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons. Winning a majority is also possible if the gap between the front-runners is more than 10 percentage points.

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