The following is a list of the major political parties operating in Canada:

Liberal Party

In power since 1993 under Prime Minister Jean Chretien, it seeks a third-straight majority government. The Liberals won 177 of the 295 seats in the 1993 vote and 155 of the 301 seats in 1997. Most of its support comes from Ontario and Quebec. Chretien, 66, called the election only 3 1/2 years into his five-year term to take advantage of a strong economy and the inexperience of his main opposition, the Canadian Alliance. The Liberals have promised $67 billion in tax cuts over five years and increased spending on health care, research, Internet technology and other areas.

Canadian Alliance

Formed in March when the old Reform Party changed its name to the Alliance, it has almost all its support in the western provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. To achieve its goal of creating a center-right conservative bloc to topple the Liberals, it has to attract support in Ontario and points east, but campaign polls indicate that won't happen this time. The Alliance held 58 seats in the House of Commons when Parliament was dissolved with the election call in October. It promotes traditional conservative policies such as tax cuts, debt reduction, increased military spending and tougher law and order measures. Leader Stockwell Day, a former preacher, is perceived as a liability in Ontario and eastern Canada because of his fundamentalist beliefs.

Bloc Quebecois

The Quebec separatists only compete in their province, where they won 44 of the 75 seats in 1997 to finish third. The party is the province's voice in the federal government, even though its goal is an autonomous or sovereign Quebec. Leader Gilles Duceppe campaigned with leading separatists such as Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard, who says he plans to hold another referendum on Quebec sovereignty before his term expires in 2003.

Progressive Conservative Party

Once a leading party in Canada, the Progressive Conservatives tumbled into near oblivion in 1993, going from 155 seats to only two. They won 20 seats in 1997, but defections to the Alliance since then left them at 15 before the election. Predicted to struggle to reach the 12-seat threshold for participating in parliamentary debates, the party benefited from a focused, aggressive campaign by leader Joe Clark that could maintain its stature. Clark has tried to position his party between the Liberals and the Canadian Alliance — more conservative and trustworthy than Chretien's Liberals, and more in touch with mainstream Canadian values than the Alliance.

New Democratic Party

A leftist party that has more success at the provincial level than the federal level, the New Democrats won 21 seats in 1997 but have registered less than 10 percent support in most campaign polls. Alexa McDonough, the only woman among the major party leaders, focused her campaign on using the budget surplus for expanded social programs in health care and other areas instead of the huge tax cuts promised by the Liberals, Alliance and Progressive Conservatives. If the Liberals fail to win a majority, the New Democratic Party could become an important ally by providing the needed votes to pass legislation in Parliament.