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Harper moves to avoid political showdown

Last Updated: Friday, November 28, 2008 | 10:00 PM ET

Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes a statement regarding the opposition's plan to form a coalition government, in front of the House of Commons on Friday.Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes a statement regarding the opposition's plan to form a coalition government, in front of the House of Commons on Friday. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has temporarily stymied a Liberal plan to bring down the government and propose a governing coalition with the New Democrats, delaying the opportunity for a no-confidence vote by one week.

In an address delivered from the foyer of the House of Commons on Friday, Harper said the government should be empowered by Canadians — not through deals negotiated in the shadowy halls of Parliament.

"While we have been working on the economy, the opposition has been working on a backroom deal to overturn the results of the last election without seeking the consent of voters. They want to take power, not earn it," Harper said.

The prime minister has cancelled Monday's opposition day, which the Liberals intended to use to introduce a motion to topple the Conservative government on the grounds that it has failed to recognize the seriousness of the economic downturn.

Harper said the next opposition day will be set for Dec. 8.

"The Liberals campaigned against a coalition with the NDP, saying NDP policies were bad for the economy. And now they want to form a coalition saying that this will strengthen the economy," Harper said.

He also cancelled a vote on a ways-and-means motion that had been scheduled for Monday night, a confidence vote that would have given the opposition another chance to bring down the government. That motion deals with the government's fiscal update, which has prompted the current political crisis.

Pointing out that the Conservatives received a renewed minority mandate last month to guide the country through the worst financial crisis in decades, Harper said his government has taken several steps since the Oct. 14 vote to bolster the economy — including injecting billions of dollars of liquidity into Canada's credit markets.

The Official Opposition disagrees, saying the government hasn't offered any serious plan to assist workers and businesses in hard-pressed sectors such as manufacturing, the automotive industry and forestry.

The Liberal motion reads: "In light of the government's failure to recognize the seriousness of Canada's economic situation and its failure in particular to present any credible plan to stimulate the Canadian economy … this House has lost confidence in this government and is of the opinion that a viable alternative government can be formed."

Governor General making plans to return

The Bloc Québécois would not be part of any coalition government, but has expressed support for the idea as long as the coalition provides economic help for Quebec's forest and manufacturing sectors.

Gov.-Gen. Michaëlle Jean has been travelling in Europe for the past few days. She's shown here visiting the monument of Hungary's 1956 anti-communist revolution martyrs with her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond in Budapest on Wednesday.Gov.-Gen. Michaëlle Jean has been travelling in Europe for the past few days. She's shown here visiting the monument of Hungary's 1956 anti-communist revolution martyrs with her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond in Budapest on Wednesday. (Karoly Arvai/Reuters)"What's happening in Ottawa right now is there are negotiations going on between the Liberals and the NDP about what that government would look like," CBC's Margo McDiarmid reported from Ottawa.

It's still unclear who would lead a coalition, though the Canadian Press quoted a source as saying the opposition parties have agreed that outgoing Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion would lead the government for the next few months. Dion is set to step down in May when a new leader is selected.

If the no-confidence motion passes, the Liberals and New Democrats would visit Gov.-Gen. Michaëlle Jean to request her permission to try to form a coalition government.

There are reports the Governor General's office has made contingency plans to cut short her trip abroad. She is on a four-country tour of eastern Europe and isn't expected back until Dec. 6. The Canadian Press quoted aides as saying she is being briefed on the situation.

The Governor General would have the option to call on other parties — perhaps the coalition being discussed between the Liberals and New Democrats — to form a government.

Dion has no right to take power without election: Harper

Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien wouldn't comment on his meetings with former New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent while on his way to his office in Ottawa on Friday.Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien wouldn't comment on his meetings with former New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent while on his way to his office in Ottawa on Friday. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

The opposition is entitled to defeat the government as it sees fit, Harper said Friday, but Dion himself does not have the right to take power without an election.

"They want to put in place a government led by one party which received its lowest popular vote since Confederation," he said.

"They want to put in place a prime minister who was rejected by the voters of Canada only six weeks ago."

Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent had confirmed earlier in the day that he had been in talks with former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien about the possibility of a coalition stemming from disagreement with measures proposed in the government's fiscal update, delivered Thursday.

"I've talked to Mr. Chrétien. He and I both discussed what would be a good situation here for the people of Canada, for Parliament, and we'll see what happens," Broadbent told CBC News. He called the Conservatives' update a "joke."

All three opposition parties — the New Democrats, Liberals and Bloc Québécois — have criticized the Conservatives for not including in their fiscal update a stimulus package to help boost Canada's slumping economy.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has said a stimulus package is still in the cards if the economic situation doesn't improve.

Also at issue was a proposal to save money by cutting public subsidies for political parties, but Kory Teneycke, director of communications for the Prime Minister's Office, said Friday that the subsidies won't be tied to the fiscal update set for a vote on Monday.

That measure would cut the $1.95-per-vote each party gets to fund such things as staffing and research. Removal of the subsidies would harm the opposition parties more than the ruling Conservatives, who have been more successful at raising money privately.

Under the mini-budget, the government would also sell $2.3 billion in government assets and save another $2 billion through salary controls for public servants, MPs and senators. It includes a proposal to deny federal public-sector unions the right to strike for the next three years.

With files from the Canadian Press
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