Harper to visit GG Thursday morning
Prime Minister Stephen Harper will make a highly anticipated visit to the Governor General on Thursday, a day after promising Canadians in a televised address that he will use any means in his power to prevent a coalition government.
In a five-minute, pre-recorded statement Wednesday night, Harper spoke bluntly against a proposed Liberal-NDP coalition backed by “separatists,” saying the federal government must stand unequivocally for keeping the country together in the face of the global economic crisis.
His criticism drew quick reactions from opposition leaders, who called on the Conservatives to accept a coalition government as the will of Parliament.
“The opposition is attempting to impose this deal without your say, without your consent, and without your vote,” Harper said.
“This is no time for backroom deals with the separatists. It is a time for Canada’s government to focus on the economy and specifically, measures for the upcoming budget.”
Harper will visit Gov. Gen. MichaÎlle Jean at 9:30 a.m. ET, the Prime Minister’s Office announced shortly after Harper’s address.
It is widely believed Harper, who pledged Wednesday night to use “every legal means at our disposal to protect our democracy, to protect our economy and to protect Canada,” will ask Jean to prorogue, or suspend, Parliament.
Harper has accused Liberal Leader StÈphane Dion, who would head the proposed coalition, of working to weaken Canada by signing a pact with the Bloc QuÈbÈcois to bring down the Conservatives. The Bloc is not an official member of the coalition but has agreed to support it for 18 months, should it take power.
Conservatives have lost right to govern: Dion
In a taped rebuttal broadcast shortly after Harper’s address, Dion defended the notion of a proposed coalition government “as normal and current practice in many parts of the world.”
Moreover, the Conservatives ó largely based on their reaction to the Canada’s financial crunch ó have lost the confidence of the majority of members of the House of Commons and thus, “have lost the right to govern,” Dion said.
Dion said he sent a letter to Jean on Wednesday, urging her to reject any attempt by Harper to prorogue Parliament.
“If Mr. Harper wants to suspend Parliament, he must first face the vote of confidence,” Dion said.
The back-to-back addresses were the latest in a political crisis that threatens to topple the minority Conservative government ó a prospect Harper has vowed to prevent at almost all costs.
The prime minister has invited the premiers for an economic summit on Jan. 16, increasing the likelihood that he will seek to suspend the current parliamentary session until January, when his government would present a budget.
In his address, Harper said the Conservatives have invited the opposition parties to offer specific suggestions for managing the economy, and even adapted some of its own proposed measures to assuage opposition concerns.
“Unfortunately, even before the government has brought forward its budget and only seven weeks after a general election, the opposition wants to overturn the results of that election,” Harper said.
Reacting to Harper’s address Wednesday night, the leaders of the Bloc and NDP, Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton, said their recommendations on how to deal with the economy have fallen on deaf ears since the Conservatives were re-elected on Oct. 14.
“Instead of acting on these ideas, unfortunately, or presenting any plan to stimulate the economy, Mr. Harper delivered a partisan attack,” Layton said.
Dion said a coalition government would enable the kind of co-operative action needed to steer Canada through the current economic chaos, noting that similar efforts were being made around the world to overcome ideological differences.
“Leaders are working to cope with the recession to bring forward the kinds of investments that will help their people and their economies,” Dion said. “Rivals are working together. Why not in Canada?”
Greens, Bloc to support coalition
Dion noted that both the Bloc and the Green parties have agreed to support a coalition Liberal-NDP government on matters of confidence. Three of the parties ó the Liberals, NDP and Bloc ó signed a coalition accord on Monday.
The Bloc will not be part of the new coalition but has agreed to support it “based on an agreement that meets the interests of Quebec,” Duceppe reiterated Wednesday night.
“What we want is that in the next 18 months, the next government will work to kick-start the economy and help people affected by the crisis,” Duceppe said.
The NDP’s Layton accused Harper of refusing to act to preserve the economy, instead turning the financial crisis into a political one.
“Stephen Harper has broken his trust with the Canadian people and because of that, he’s lost the confidence of Parliament,” Layton said.
NDP leader Jack Layton gives his rebuttal to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s address to the nation. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)
The fate of the Canadian government now depends on how Jean, who returned to Ottawa on Wednesday from Europe, decides to handle the political crisis.
If she is asked to prorogue Parliament and agrees, Harper’s Conservatives will be able to avoid a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons on Monday that could precipitate the rise of a Liberal-NDP coalition.
But if Jean refuses to suspend the current parliamentary session, she will then have to decide whether to call an election should the Conservatives lose the vote of confidence, or approve the proposed coalition government.
“Mr. Harper’s solution is to extend that crisis by avoiding a simple vote, by suspending Parliament and continuing the confusion,” Dion said Wednesday night.
“We offer a better way. We say settle it now and let’s get to work on the people’s business.”
Talk of a coalition government was triggered when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivered his fiscal update last Thursday.
Opposition parties blasted the Tories for failing to include a stimulus package for the slumping economy and accused the party of using tumultuous times to try to push through ideologically-driven measures they said attacked women and public servants.
The mini-budget originally proposed a three-year ban on the right of civil servants to strike, limits on the ability of women to sue for pay equity, and eliminated subsidies for political parties.
The Conservatives have since promised to present their budget on Jan. 27, with the suggestion it will contain a stimulus package, and have eliminated some of the most contentious issues from the fiscal update.
The coalition has vowed to make a stimulus package a priority, proposing a multibillion-dollar plan that includes help for the auto and forestry sectors.
The coalition would have a 24-member cabinet with six New Democrats and 18 Liberals and would operate with the support of the Bloc QuÈbÈcois for at least 18 months.
With 77 Liberal MPs and 37 New Democrats, plus the support of 49 Bloc members, the three parties have more seats than the 143 held by the Tories.
Harper to visit GG Thursday morning