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Dion coalition would 'weaken' Canada: Harper

Liberal leader says the prime minister's comments are 'nonsense'

Last Updated: Wednesday, December 3, 2008 | 8:30 PM ET

Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during Wednesday's question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during Wednesday's question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday accused Stéphane Dion of working "to weaken" the country by signing an agreement with the Bloc Québécois to topple the Conservative minority government, a charge denied by the Liberal leader.

The prime minister's comments came just hours before he addressed the country at 7 p.m. ET. In his five-minute, pre-recorded statement in English and French, Harper said a Canadian government coalition government backed by "separatists" would not help Canada in the face of a global economic crisis.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion questions the government during Wednesday's question period.Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion questions the government during Wednesday's question period. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)The networks agreed to a coalition response. The NDP has also asked for equal airtime separate from the official coalition response, but the request was denied.

The announcement of Harper's address came before Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean's return to Ottawa on Wednesday. She was immediately thrown into a political crisis that she will have to resolve by deciding the fate of the federal government.

During Wednesday's question period, opposition leaders accused the prime minister of being more concerned with saving his job than protecting the jobs of Canadians threatened in the global economic crisis.

"He is hiding from Parliament," Dion told the House. "Why is he refusing to come forward with a plan to improve our economy?"

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe accused the Harper government of hiding from Parliament. Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe accused the Harper government of hiding from Parliament. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)Harper, in turn, cited a Quebec newspaper article quoting former Parti Québécois leader Jacques Parizeau as saying the deal is an "impressive victory," and proves to Quebecers how important the Bloc's presence is in Ottawa.

"Mr. Speaker, the leader of the Liberal party is not working with us to prepare the budget and to strengthen this economy, but to weaken this country," Harper told the House.

Harper added if Dion really wants to help Canadian workers, the Liberal leader should "walk away" from the proposed coalition immediately.

An angry Dion called Harper's charge "nonsense."

"A weak government is a government that doesn't have the confidence of this House and wants to govern, never mind," he said.

Dion urges Jean to reject any prorogue request

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean, shown with her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond, Czech President Vaclav Klaus and his wife, Livia Klausova, in Prague on Monday, has returned early to Canada.Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean, shown with her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond, Czech President Vaclav Klaus and his wife, Livia Klausova, in Prague on Monday, has returned early to Canada. (CTK/Stanislav Zbynek/Associated Press)The Governor General returned to Ottawa after cutting short a two-week visit to Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Hungary. The Prime Minister's Office confirmed that Harper will visit Jean at Rideau Hall at 9:30 a.m. ET on Thursday. He is expected to ask her to prorogue Parliament until January, which would suspend the current session until January, when his government would present a budget.

The Conservative government has already signalled it is considering all legal options to prevent a Liberal-NDP coalition. Before his evening speech, Harper invited the premiers for a mid-January economic summit.

Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean enters her car after arriving in Ottawa on Wednesday from Europe.Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean enters her car after arriving in Ottawa on Wednesday from Europe. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)But the Governor General faces other political options as well. She could decide to call an election should the Conservatives lose a confidence vote set to take place Monday or allow the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition to govern.

Dion, who would head the proposed coalition, said he sent a letter to Jean on Wednesday, urging her to reject any attempt by Harper to prorogue Parliament.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he has had private conversations with friends in the Official Opposition caucus who he said are looking for a way to resolve the situation.

"My colleagues are willing to work with those folks. I’ll tell you, having a time-out may be what the doctor ordered — lower the temperature in this place."

He said he didn't know of reports that Liberals have been made offers to join the Conservatives to avoid the crisis. But Liberal MP Bryon Wilfert told CBC's Don Newman that one of his colleagues was called and offered a cabinet position.

The Tories have already begun a public relations blitz to discredit the pact, which the Bloc Québécois has agreed to support for at least 18 months.

Rallies planned

Radio and TV ads have already rolled out and countrywide rallies are planned for the weekend. The Tories have characterized the agreement as an undemocratic coalition beholden to a separatist party.

But opposition members have denied the charges. They fired back with charges of hypocrisy, citing a letter to former governor general Adrienne Clarkson in 2004, signed by then opposition leaders Harper, Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton that discussed the prospects of dissolving Parliament if the government of Paul Martin, the prime minister, was to be defeated.

The letter stated that the opposition parties, which constituted a majority in the House, have "been in close consultation" and that if Clarkson was asked to dissolve Parliament, she should "consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority."

The Tories counter that that agreement was different because it didn't include a formal coalition.

The opposition parties said they made their move to form a coalition after Harper "did nothing" to address the current economic crisis. Their accord includes a proposed multibillion-dollar stimulus package with support for the auto and forestry sectors.

Proponents of the proposed coalition also announced planned rallies across Canada to show support for the plan, using social networking websites such as Facebook to spread word of the events.

The coalition has also launched a series of radio ads and appeals to supporters, asking them to call or write to their local radio stations and newspapers.

With files from the Canadian Press
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