Sat, Nov 29, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Canadian opposition vows to vote down government agenda

FISCAL PROGRAMThe opposition objected to the lack of economic stimuli and a plan to scrap public subsidies for political parties


Canada’s opposition parties said on Thursday they would vote against the Conservative government’s economic plan, a move that could topple the government just weeks after a national election.

The opposition Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois said they could not support the government’s updated fiscal plan because it offered no stimulus package to deal with the economic crisis. They also objected to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plans to scrap public subsidies for political parties.

The opposition parties rely on the subsidy for most of their funding — far more than Harper’s Conservatives, who raise twice as much in donations as the three opposition parties combined.

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said that rejection of his updated fiscal plan could trigger another election.

“The bill I will introduce on Monday is a question of confidence,” he said.

However, Liberal leader Stephane Dion did not respond when asked if a handful of his lawmakers might be absent for a vote on the update, allowing the government to survive.

Harper’s Conservative party won the Oct. 14 election to remain in power, but stayed a minority government that must rely on opposition support to pass budgets and legislation.

The opposition parties are outraged that Harper plans to scrap the public subsidies for political parties. The Liberals could be crippled by the move.

Should the fiscal update be defeated, New Democrat party lawmaker Tom Mulcair said there were other steps that could be taken constitutionally to avoid an election. Among the other options, the opposition parties could try to form a coalition government or reach agreement to give the Liberals, who came in second in last month’s election, a chance to govern.

Liberal lawmaker Bob Rae accused the Conservatives of playing politics at an inopportune time.

“Wake up Canadians. This is a party that wants to put their own partisan advantage ahead of your job,” said Rae, who is running to replace Dion as Liberal leader.

Stephen Clarkson, a political economy professor at the University of Toronto, said it was totally irresponsible for Harper to provoke his own defeat on a trivial issue.

Harper thinks the Liberals are weak because they are in the process of replacing Dion as leader, Clarkson said.

“It’s a pure provocation of the other parties,” Clarkson said.

“It’s so petty. It’s hard to believe you’d do that in a time of economic crisis when he should be governing and not playing the worst kind of partisan politics,” he said.

Flaherty updated Canada’s fiscal position by acknowledging the economy would be in recession in the last quarter of this year and the first quarter of next year.

But Flaherty declined to immediately announce a stimulus package in his speech. He said the government was hoping to stay out of deficit next year but said future stimulus measures would likely tip finances into deficit. Canada has run a surplus since 1997.

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