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

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Associated Press

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

by
Rob Gillies

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)

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.

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 Although that proposal was withdrawn, the opposition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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