OTTAWA Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper set May 2 as the date of the next election on Saturday and said people would be "crazy" to vote for opposition parties he accused of trying to illegitimately seize power.
A clearly angry Harper railed against the three opposition parties that brought his minority Conservative government down on Friday. The opposition said the government was tainted by sleaze, had managed the economy poorly and was in contempt of Parliament.
Polls show the right-of-center Conservatives are set to retain power in what will be Canada's fourth election in less than seven years.
Harper, in power since 2006 with two successive minority governments, says Canada does not need an election at a time when economic recovery is still fragile. Canada's economy is one of the best performing among industrialized nations.
Harper told reporters that if Conservatives don't win a majority in the election, the three opposition parties would form what he called an illegitimate, unstable and reckless coalition.
"They are still trying to keep the door open because they will do it if they get a chance ... you don't try and form a government if you lost the election. That is not legitimate," he said, visibly struggling to curb his temper.
Voting for the opposition, he added, "would be crazy, given the circumstances Canada faces".
Harper spoke after visiting Governor General David Johnston -- the representative of Queen Elizabeth, Canada's head of state -- to seek the dissolution of Parliament.
Michael Ignatieff, leader of the main opposition Liberal Party, responded by calling Harper a liar.
"He wouldn't recognize the truth if it walked up and shook his hand," he told reporters.
"(He) is out of touch with the priorities of Canadian families, and he's led a government whose record of waste, contempt and abuse of power has gone out of control."
In December 2008, the Liberals and the left-leaning New Democrats signed a deal to defeat Harper and the separatist Bloc Quebecois promised not to bring them down.
Harper's government, which only escaped being replaced by that coalition by having Parliament suspended, said on Saturday the opposition parties had a hidden agenda and were waiting for another chance to grab power.
"Last time they made some mistakes and we were able to thwart it. Next time they'll do it in a way that they cannot be thwarted," he said.
Canada's overall economic policy likely would not change markedly if either the Conservatives or Liberals won, since both parties stress the need for austerity and agree on the importance of paying down a record budget deficit.
Two online polls on Saturday gave the Conservatives a large lead, reinforcing the suspicion that the opposition had taken a considerable risk in bringing down the government.
Pollster Nik Nanos of the Nanos Research firm said the Conservatives were reassured by the numbers, the Liberals were convinced they could do better than the polls showed, and the New Democrats were confident they could pick up seats from their rivals.
"It's a very odd mixture where everyone is looking at the same numbers but they have different strategic interpretations of what it means for themselves," he told Reuters.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway)