Canada's minority government loses support of key party

AFP , OTTAWA

Wed, Nov 09, 2005 - Page 7

The leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) withdrew his key support for Canada's minority Liberal government on Monday, a move that will likely precipitate its downfall within weeks and an election soon.

NDP leader Jack Layton had offered to prop up Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's embattled Liberal government in exchange for healthcare spending concessions, but told business leaders at a luncheon in Toronto that Martin's proposals were inadequate.

"Unfortunately, I don't believe that there are grounds to go forward," Layton said.

"Unfortunately, those of us committed to getting things done in this parliament and for all of those who were attempting to do so, there's no basis for our party to express confidence in this government," he added.

The Liberals have 133 of 308 seats in the House of Commons. With the NDP's 18 seats and the support of a handful of independent members of parliament, Martin had managed to fend off attacks by the Conservatives (98 seats) and Bloc Quebecois (54 seats) in May as a major political funding scandal roared.

But, with all three opposition parties now united against him, Martin's government could lose a confidence vote as early as the middle of this month, which would send voters to the polls at Christmas.

The prime minister's office declined to comment on the announcement, but Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh offered to continue negotiating with the NDP to reach a deal on healthcare.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper expressed doubt that Layton would follow through with his threat to help defeat the government, calling it "another episode in the soap opera."

"You know, a soap opera, you watch it every day and nothing really changes," Harper said.

Both he and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe urged Layton to table a confidence motion himself to prove his resolve.

None of the opposition leaders said they would actually trigger an election, fearing a possible voter backlash for interrupting Canadians' holiday festivities.

Martin had promised to call an election in March.

Meanwhile, the latest Strategic Counsel data published on Saturday in the Globe and Mail put the Liberals' approval rating at 28 percent, down 10 percent in three weeks, neck and neck with the Conservatives who gained six points to 31 percent.

If an election were held now, the Liberals would likely lose and the Conservatives would form the next government, the results suggested.