Opposition to topple Canadian government

AP News
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Posted: Mar 25, 2011 2:38 AM
Opposition to topple Canadian government

Canadian opposition parties planned to topple Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government over ethics issues in a Friday vote that will trigger Canada's fifth election in 10 years.

Opposition parties allege Harper has failed to disclose the full financial details of his tougher crime legislation, corporate tax cuts and plans to purchase stealth fighter jets.

Opinion polls expect Harper's Conservative Party to win re-election but not a majority, meaning he will continue to govern with a minority in Parliament, dependent on opposition votes to stay afloat.

The opposition parties combined hold the majority of the seats in Parliament with 160, while the Conservatives have 143.

But in the latest twist, there is a chance the left-of-center parties might join forces in a coalition if Harper wins another minority government on the expected election date of May 2.

The opposition tried this once before, after Harper won minority re-election in 2008. But before he could be defeated in a no confidence vote Harper shut down Parliament for three months and successfully whipped up public opposition against the coalition.

The Conservatives accused the Liberals of treason for uniting with the Bloc Quebecois, a party that seeks independence for Canada's French-speaking province of Quebec.

Harper's government is now once again trying to marshal public sentiment against a possible coalition government. His underlings attacked the opposition Thursday with accusations they will try to form a coalition if another minority Conservative is the result of the election.

"The Liberal party is showing incredible contempt for Canadian voters. They want to just simply set aside the results of the next election campaign and form a reckless and unstable coalition with their friends in the Bloc Quebecois and their friends in the NDP and worse yet they refuse to be honest and transparent about it," Conservative House leader John Baird said in Parliament.

Dimitri Soudas, Harper's top spokesman, noted that first reference Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff didn't rule out forming a coalition government with the other opposition parties when he was asked about it on Wednesday.

Opposition New Democrat leader Jack Layton added fuel to the fire Wednesday, saying he would not rule out forming a coalition with Ignatieff.

Stephen Clarkson, a political economy professor at the University of Toronto, said coalition governments happen all the time in Europe, but Harper successfully marshaled public opinion against it two years ago and said it's unlikely to happen in Canada in the near term.

"Our political culture has not gotten to the point where it can cope with coalition," Clarkson said. "Maybe in 10 years we'll have gotten over it."

But Robert Bothwell, a professor of political history at the University of Toronto, is certain the Liberals and the NDP will form a coalition backed by the Bloc Quebecois if the results of the election are the same as 2008.

"I feel quite certain they would. It could happen a day after the election," Bothwell said.

Nelson Wiseman, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, agreed and said he thinks Canadians will grow accustomed to the idea as the election campaign progresses.

"This question is just going to be the question," Wiseman said. "The Conservatives will run all these ads about it because they are drunk on how successful that line was two years ago. On the other hand what they don't realize is that the more there is talk about coalition the more people start thinking, 'Oh coalition, that's possible.' In the last election no one could conceive of it."

While the Conservatives will try to scare Canadians with coalition talk, the opposition will try to keep the focus on the government's recent ethic issues.

The Liberals were originally going to bring down the government over corporate tax cuts and spending billions in new fighter jets, but recent ethical issues helped them make inroads in furthering the image of Harper as an autocrat who shuts Parliament when it suits him.

Last week, Harper asked police to look into the activities of Bruce Carson, a key former aide. Carson, 66, is accused of using the access he had to senior members of the government to lobby on behalf of a company affiliated with his 22-year-old fiancee, a former escort.

The opposition parties are also united against Harper's latest budget plan, but they want to defeat the government over the contempt charges.

Harper is counting on the economy to help him win re-election. Canada has outperformed other major industrialized democracies through the financial crisis, recovering all jobs lost during the recession while its banking sector remains intact. It avoided a property crash, and most economists expect 2010 growth to come in at 3 percent.

But Harper is a center-right prime minister in a traditionally liberal country, and his plan to cut corporate tax rates has given the opposition, led by the left-leaning Liberals, an opening to argue that Canada is running a record deficit that will only worsen if taxes are cut.

Opposition parties also are hammering the prime minister for planning to spend at least $16 billion on 65 American-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighters _ one of the biggest military purchases in Canadian history.