Canadians will go to the polls on Oct. 14, after Conservative Leader Stephen Harper met with Governor General Michaelle Jean Sunday morning and asked her to dissolve Parliament.

"Between now and Oct. 14, Canadians will choose a government to look out for their interests at a time of global economic trouble," Harper told reporters on Sunday after he triggered the vote.

"They will choose between direction or uncertainty; between common sense or risky experiments; between steadiness or recklessness."

Harper said his government delivered on its commitments and developed consensus on major issues such as the mission in Afghanistan and Indian residential schools.

"But now we have come to a moment where the people of Canada have to choose the way forward."

Hours later, Harper began his campaign in Quebec City, telling supporters that the Bloc Quebecois was no longer relevant and it was the Conservatives -- not the Bloc -- who had succeeded in recognizing the province as a nation.

"I remember when the Bloc arrived in Ottawa requesting four years to create Quebec sovereignty. That was 18 years ago," he said.

"Eighteen years later, the Bloc is still there, and still doesn't have sovereignty. Dear friends, in two-and-a-half years we have achieved concrete results for Quebecers."

Meanwhile, the opposition leaders wasted no time reacting to Harper's election call:

  • Liberal Leader Stephane Dion called the election a "stark choice" between his party and  "most Conservative government in our history"
  • Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe called Harper's vision "illogical and inspired by (U.S. President) George W. Bush."
  • NDP Leader Jack Layton  -- perhaps trying to echoe U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama -- said his party offered real change,  " instead of Mr. Harper's approach"
  • Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said the "our species stands on a precipice on this planet" and urged people to embrace her party's vision

At dissolution, the party standings in the 308-seat House of Commons are as follows:

  • Conservatives - 127
  • Liberals - 95
  • Bloc Quebecois - 48
  • NDP - 30
  • Independent - 4
  • Vacant - 4

One of the Independents, Blair Wilson of B.C., announced last weekend he is now a Green MP.

Harper identified the Liberal party as his principal opposition, although the NDP has ignored the Liberals in the early going and tried to position itself as the progressive alternative to the Tories.

Harper noted that there are four parties on the left looking for support, and said his party was the choice of centre and right voters.

Nasty campaign?

In an exclusive interview aired today on CTV's Question Period, Harper  said he expects a nasty election campaign.

"To be really honest, I anticipate a very nasty, kind of personal-attack campaign," he told Lloyd Robertson, CTV's chief news anchor and senior news editor, taped Saturday at Harrington Lake.

"That's just what I'm anticipating; that's what the opposition has done in the past. I think that whether Canadians agree with what we're doing or not, I don't think they're going to believe the kind of personal attacks and scare tactics that we've seen in the past."

The Tories have made Harper the centrepiece of their campaign, and the NDP have aimed their initial ads at Harper.

On Sunday, Harper told his news conference that he wouldn't be getting nasty with the other leaders.

"I have good relations with most of the other leaders and I respect all of them as individuals and as political adversaries," he said.

"We disagree. I think we have lots of scope in this election to go after the positions these leaders have taken.

"The Liberal Party, is running on a policy, a tax increase, a carbon tax (that) it doesn't want to talk about. So, I think that's why they are going to spend our time attacking us and attacking me personally. Certainly, that's been the tenor of the last few months of Parliament, so that's what I expect we'll have more of," Harper said.

Early election call

The election writ was dropped despite the Conservative Party's own legislation that set a fixed election date for October 2009.

Critics have charged the Tories of breaking their own law for political gain, and Sunday morning the Liberal Party issued a press release on the matter, under the subject header "Conservative Broken Platform Promise of the Day."

"(Harper) is the one who brought in the law ... and then just threw it out," former Liberal cabinet minister Sheila Copps told CTV Newsnet Sunday morning from Ottawa.

The NDP said the election call raises key issues that will be central in the campaign.

"It's another example of how Mr. Harper can't be trusted, and I think this is a good opportunity to take a look at leadership in this campaign," NDP strategist Brad Lavigne said.

Although the election call had been widely anticipated for several weeks, there were questions Sunday about the readiness of Stephane Dion's Liberals.

The Liberals' election plane is not expected to be ready until near the end of the week, and Dion will reportedly travel by bus for the first few days of the campaign. The Conservatives claimed that's a blunder which raises questions about his leadership and organizational skills.

Copps said the Liberals are ready for a tough election fight and local candidates across the country are fully prepared.

"People's expectations of Mr. Dion have been driven into the ground by Mr. Harper's negative ad campaigns," Copps said, noting that voters will get a different picture of the Liberal leader during the campaign.