Harper sets up confidence vote on government

Prime Minister Stephen Harper suspended Parliament and reconvened a new session on October 16, setting up a vote of confidence in his minority Conservative government that could trigger an election.

Harper sets up confidence vote on government
Prime Minister Stephen Harper suspended Parliament and reconvened a new session on October 16, setting up a vote of confidence in his minority Conservative government that could trigger an election.

Harper controls only 125 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons and starting a new session will effectively challenge the three opposition parties to bring down the government.

"I'm pleased to report that Canada is united, our government is clean and our economy is strong. Now it's time to launch the next phase of our mandate," Harper said in a statement.

His spokeswoman told Reuters: "We've listened to Canadians and they have priorities they would like to see action on."

Governments open new sessions of Parliament with a formal speech outlining their plans. Legislators have six full working days to debate the so-called speech from the throne and if they vote against it, the government falls.

Parliament had been due to resume on September 17.

The Conservatives won the January 2006 election with 36 percent of the vote, but since then their support has barely budged in the polls, hampered by public unhappiness over Harper's rigid governing style and concern about the rising number of Canadian troops killed in Afghanistan.

Neither of the two main opposition parties is particularly keen for a vote now, but both have been clear they oppose any plans to extend the Afghan combat mission beyond its scheduled finish date of February 2009.

The separatist Bloc Quebecois -- which kept Harper afloat by backing both his 2006 and 2007 budgets -- said it would vote against Harper if the speech did not specifically promise the Afghan mission will end on time.

"That is something we will not negotiate on," Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe told Reuters. "Suspending Parliament is a sign the government is running short of ideas."

The Liberals, the largest opposition grouping, said the Conservatives could not be trusted to deliver a worthy platform.

"The official opposition will vote in a principled and conscientious way on that throne speech and if that ends up defeating the government, then so be it," senior party member Ralph Goodale told reporters in a conference call.

A written statement from Liberal leader Stephane Dion was milder and made no threats to vote against the speech.

Together, the Liberals and the Bloc have 145 seats, but still not a majority of votes in the House.

This would put the fate of the government in the hands of the left-leaning New Democrats, with 29 legislators, who want the 2,500 troops in Afghanistan brought back immediately.

NDP leader Jack Layton accused Harper of wasting time but did not mention how the party might vote on the speech.

"Students have gone back to class. Working families are back from vacation. Why is Stephen Harper locking members of Parliament out? ... The prime minister should be ashamed," he said in a statement.

Delaying the parliamentary session will avoid any overlap with an election campaign in the powerful central province of Ontario, which goes to the polls on October 10.

Canada's federal Parliament adopted legislation this year setting fixed election dates. If Harper can avoid being defeated, he would next go to the polls on October 19, 2009.

Reuters
Last Mod: 05 Eylül 2007, 15:36
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