* All three parties to back nonconfidence motion
* Polls show Conservatives would retain power in election
* Canada PM says opposition could damage economy
(Recasts lead, adds quotes from Harper, opposition)
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, March 23 Canada's minority Conservative
government looks set to fall on Friday on opposition charges it
is incompetent and tainted by sleaze, setting the scene for an
immediate election campaign that might barely change the
balance of political power.
All three opposition parties said on Wednesday they would
back a motion of nonconfidence in the government from the
Liberals, the biggest opposition party.
If they all vote for the motion at a debate on Friday,
Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be defeated and Canada will
face its fourth federal election in less than seven years.
"We've worked with the government in times past, but we've
reached the end of the road here," said Michael Ignatieff,
leader of the Liberal Party. "They have made choices that will
harm Canadian families. They have made choices that are not
good for our democracy."
Polls show the Conservatives would easily retain power in
an election, if voting intentions stayed where they are now.
But Harper might not win enough votes to transform his
minority right-of-center government into a majority one that
cannot be easily defeated. An election would probably take
place on May 2 or May 9 after a campaign of around six weeks.
For stories on Canada's political crisis, click here
The Conservatives came to power in early 2006 on a platform
of cleaning up Ottawa after accountability scandals that
tarnished the reputation of the previous Liberal government.
But last week, police were asked to probe allegations of
misconduct by a former top Harper aide, and last month, four
Conservative officials were charged with violating financing
rules during the 2006 election campaign.
This week, a parliamentary committee slapped the government
with the first contempt ruling in Canada's history, ruling that
Ottawa had hidden the full costs of a spending program.
Harper's Conservatives have never won more than a minority
government, and they stayed in power as opposition parties took
turns to prop them up.
But this time the opposition is united, confident it can
take advantage of the ethical problems and dislike of a federal
budget that the government submitted on Tuesday. The budget
fell far short of what was needed ensure a lasting recovery
from recession, opposition parties say.
The Conservatives, who insist nobody wants an election now,
will portray themselves as the best managers of Canadian
economy, and Harper on Wednesday accused the opposition parties
of threatening the economic recovery.
"Our economy is not a political game. The global recovery
is still fragile," he told reporters.
The Conservatives and Liberals are both committed to
cutting a budget deficit which hit a record C$55.6 billion
($56.7 billion) last year as the government spent freely to
stimulate the economy.
It's a huge deficit for Canada, but tiny compared to the
$1.645 trillion U.S. shortfall the United States faces in 2011.
Planned austerity measures are far less severe than those
planned by the British coalition government, for example.
The Liberals say they will scrap C$6 billion in planned
corporate tax cuts, cancel an deal to buy C$9 billion worth of
fighter jets from Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) and boost social
spending for vulnerable Canadians if they win.
The Conservatives will push ahead with a program of tax
cuts and small-scale spending program. They say the budget will
be in balance by 2015-16, although the Liberals dispute that.
Ignatieff said it was "hilarious" that Harper was trying to
persuade Canadians they could not have an election because it
will destabilize the economy. "We will fight them on the
economy, and we will win on the economy," he said.
Ignatieff skirted questions on whether he might form a
coalition with the left-leaning New Democrats after an
election. The two parties agreed in late 2008 to work with the
separatist Bloc Quebecois to bring down Harper, who only
escaped by having Parliament suspended.
The Conservatives have consistently said the three
opposition parties will seek to form a coalition.
(Additional reporting by Allan Dowd, Louise Egan and Jeffrey
Hodgson; editing by Janet Guttsman)