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Canada's PM Tries to Head Off Bid to Topple Him

by Rob Gillies

OTTAWA - Canada's prime minister was expected to try Thursday to suspend parliament in an unprecedented effort to delay a vote that could bring down the new government because of dissatisfaction over its handling of the economy.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during a Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Wednesday, Dec.3, 2008. The Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois opposition parties, which together control a majority in Parliament, signed a pact Monday agreeing to vote to oust Harper's minority government next week and setting the structure for their proposed coalition government.(AP Photo/ The Canadian Press,Adrian Wyld) Stephen Harper set a morning meeting with the unelected representative of the head of state, Governor General Michaelle Jean, who has the power to grant the unusual request to suspend parliament.

The two will discuss the political crisis threatening to bring down Harper's Conservative party less than two months after it won re-election. On Wednesday night, Harper condemned the opposition plan to gain power in a no-confidence vote next week as undemocratic.

Three opposition parties have united against Harper, charging he has failed to insulate Canada from the global financial crisis. The credit crisis and a global sell off commodities has slowed Canada's resource rich economy and the finance minister said last week he expects a recession.

The opposition was also outraged by a government proposal to scrap public subsidies for political parties, something the opposition groups rely on more than the Conservatives. Although that proposal was withdrawn, the opposition has continued to seek Harper's ouster, saying he has lost the trust and confidence of parliament.

A cabinet minister said Harper would ask the governor general to suspend parliament until next month - giving him time to develop a stimulus package that could prop up the economy.

"We're hoping that the governor general will grant a time out and then we can come back on January 26 when parliament is due to resume," Conservative House Leader Jay Hill told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on Thursday morning. "We can bring in a budget the next day on January 27."

Jean represents Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who is head of state for Canada as well. It is mostly a ceremonial position, but she decides whether to grant a request to suspend parliament.

If she turns down the request, Harper would have two choices: step down or face a no-confidence vote he is sure to lose on Monday.

Harper's Conservative Party was re-elected Oct. 14 with a strengthened minority government, but still must rely on the opposition to pass legislation.

The Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois, which together control a majority of parliament's 308 seats, signed a pact agreeing to vote this coming Monday to oust Harper and setting the structure for their proposed coalition government.

In a televised address Wednesday night, Harper vowed to use "every legal means" to stop the move to unseat his minority government. He said this was a pivotal moment in Canada's history, a time of global economic instability when the government must stand unequivocally for keeping the country together.

"The Opposition does not have the democratic right to impose a coalition," Harper said in his address to the nation. "The opposition is attempting to impose this deal without your say, without your consent, and without your vote. This is no time for back-room deals."

He said the government cannot enter into a power-sharing coalition with a separatist party, referring to the Bloc Quebecois from the french-speaking province of Quebec. The Bloc is backing the opposition coalition led by the Liberals and Democrats.

Opposition Liberal leader Stephane Dion said a suspension of parliament would only delay the inevitable. Dion urged Jean in a letter Wednesday to reject Harper's request, arguing it would prolong the crisis and exacerbate the country's economic difficulties.

If the opposition plan succeeds, it would be the first time that a Canadian government has been ousted in a confidence vote and replaced by an opposition coalition without an intervening election.

Analysts said a governor general has never been asked to suspend parliament to delay an ouster vote when it was clear the government didn't have the confidence of a majority of legislators.

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