Canada’s three opposition parties said on Wednesday they planned to topple the conservative government in a vote of no confidence in parliament today and trigger the country’s fourth election in seven years.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs the support of at least one opposition party to stay in power, but all three rejected Harper’s proposed budget after it was announced on Tuesday.
The trigger that’s expected to bring Harper down are allegations — supported on Monday by a parliamentary committee — that Harper has acted in contempt of parliament by failing to disclose the full financial details of his tougher crime legislation, -corporate tax cuts and plans to purchase stealth fighter jets.
The opposition is set to introduce a no-confidence vote on the contempt issue today, which could trigger an election that would take place either on May 2 or May 9.
“This government has lost the confidence of Canadians,” Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said.
Earlier, Harper urged the opposition to support his latest budget plan, and he called on opposition members to explain their refusal to support it during a time of economic uncertainty.
“Our economy is not a political game. The global recovery is still fragile. Relative to other nations, Canada’s economic recovery has been strong, but its continuation is by no means assured,” Harper said.
Canada is likely to emerge from an election with little changed unless the opposition parties join forces in a coalition.
Opinion polls expect Harper’s Conservative Party to win, but not outright, meaning he will continue to govern with a minority in parliament, dependent on opposition votes to stay afloat.
Harper’s Conservatives hold 143 seats in parliament. The Liberals have 77, the New Democrats 36 and the Bloc Quebecois 47.
The opposition parties tried to form a coalition government after Harper won minority re-election in 2008, but before he could be defeated in a no confidence vote Harper shut down parliament for three months and successfully whipped up public opposition against the coalition.
Harper might be gambling that an election now will confound conventional wisdom and hand him the majority in parliament that has eluded him through his five-year tenure as prime minister. He is counting on the economy to help him win re-election.
Canada has outperformed other major industrialized democracies through the financial crisis, recovering all jobs lost during the recession while its banking sector remains intact. It avoided a property crash, and most economists expect last year’s growth to come in at 3 percent.
However, Harper is a center-right prime minister in a traditionally liberal country, and his plan to cut corporate tax rates has given the opposition, led by the left-leaning Liberals, an opening to argue that Canada is running a record deficit that will only worsen if taxes are cut.
Opposition parties also are hammering the prime minister for planning to spend at least US$9 billion on 65 US-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighters — one of the biggest military purchases in Canadian history — plus at least US$5 billion more in maintenance costs.
Dimitri Soudas, Harper’s top spokesman, said that Ignatieff didn’t rule out forming a coalition government with the other -opposition parties when he was asked about it on Wednesday.
“There is no doubt, if given the opportunity, Michael Ignatieff will form a coalition with the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois,” Soudas said in an e-mail.
New Democrat leader Jack Layton said he would not rule out forming a coalition with Ignatieff.
“We’re not closing the door to any possibility there,” Layton said.
Layton also said they would target Harper in the campaign.
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