Canada’s prime minister managed to head off the fall of his conservative minority government and cling to power on Thursday after engineering the suspension of parliament.
The extraordinary decision by Canada’s governor general, Michaelle Jean, to grant Stephen Harper’s request to suspend parliament saved him from a confidence vote set for Monday that he was almost certain to lose. It also spares Canadians from going to the polls again, just weeks after elections in October.
But the reprieve for Harper takes Canada into uncharted constitutional territory and creates a political vacuum at a time of global economic crisis. It is also temporary.
Parliament will resume in the new year and the government is due to introduce its budget on Jan. 27.
In an attempt to shore up his political prospects in the interim, Harper told reporters in Ottawa yesterday that his budget would include measures to help the economy, and that he would try to regain the confidence of the opposition.
“Obviously we have to do some trust-building,” he said.
Yesterday’s decision brought angry protests from the opposition Liberal and New Democratic parties, which had called on Jean to refuse the prime minister’s request to prorogue parliament. They accused her of disregarding the will of the majority in parliament.
Canada’s crisis was provoked last week when Harper introduced an economic plan that included no stimulus measures but called for a three-year ban on strikes by civil servants and the abolition of public financing for political parties.
Although Harper retreated on both measures, the opposition refused to back off, raising a political skirmish to Thursday’s crisis proportions.
Donna Dasko, one of Canada’s best-known pollsters, said the move to scrap public financing was the tipping point for an opposition that had been demoralized by Harper’s re-election.