Canadian PM fights to stay in power

Stephen Harper asks governor general to suspend parliament in order to delay vote of no confidence

The Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, celebrates his Conservative party's election victory with his daughter, Rachel

The Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, celebrates his Conservative party's election victory with his daughter, Rachel. Photograph: Mike Sturk/EPA

The Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, is expected to try to suspend parliament today in an attempt to hang on to power, less than two months after he won re-election.

Harper will holds talks with the governor general to try to avoid an opposition no-confidence vote next week that the government would probably lose.

The governor general, Michaëlle Jean - the representative of the Queen as Canada's head of state - holds a mostly ceremonial position, but has the power to accept or reject any request Harper might make to suspend parliament.

In a televised address yesterday, Harper condemned the opposition plan to gain power as undemocratic. He vowed to use "every legal means" to stop the no-confidence vote to unseat his minority Conservative government and replace it with an opposition-led coalition.

If the coalition succeeds, it would be the first time a Canadian government has been thrown out by a no-confidence vote and replaced without an election.

A cabinet minister has suggested that Harper will ask Jean to suspend parliament until next month, giving him time to present a budget that includes a stimulus package.

The opposition liberal leader, Stephane Dion, has accused the government of having no plan to deal with the recession and said that a suspension of parliament would only delay Harper's inevitable defeat.

Canada's political crisis stems from the government's response to the global economic crisis. Three opposition parties have united against the government's handling of the economy, accusing it of failing to act.

Canada's beleaguered car and forestry sectors are backing the coalition, as it has promised to fast-track billions in dollars in spending as the country heads into a recession.

Canadians are split on who to support. According to an Angus Reid poll for Canadian TV, 64% do not support Dion becoming prime minister in a coalition government, but 53% oppose the Conservatives' current economic policy.

57% are concerned about the separatist Bloc Quebecois's role in the coalition. Analysts say Canada's political paralysis is unprecedented.

A Canadian governor general has never refused a request by the prime minister to temporarily suspend parliament, but this has never been requested to delay a no-confidence vote when it was clear the government lacked the confidence of a majority of MPs.

"There is no precedent whatsoever in Canada and probably in the Commonwealth," said Ned Franks, a constitutional scholar and political scientist. "We are in uncharted territory."


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Canadian PM fights to stay in power

This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 15.41 GMT on Thursday December 04 2008. It was last updated at 16.45 GMT on Thursday December 04 2008.

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