(Adds Liberal comment)
OTTAWA/TORONTO, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper turned up the heat on his rivals on Friday, saying he might force votes of confidence when lawmakers take up crime and other nonfinancial legislation, a move which could force early elections if the bills were defeated.
With the Conservatives leading the Liberals in the polls and seeing some disarray in the rival ranks, Harper has raised the political stakes in recent weeks while still insisting he has no desire to call fresh elections any time soon.
The Conservatives lack a majority of seats in the House of Commons. If Harper fails to gain the support or at least abstention of one of the three opposition parties in any matter of confidence, his minority government could be brought down.
As polls stand now, an election would likely deliver another minority Conservative government.
“Obviously, where the principal objectives of the government are at issue and particularly where Parliament has had more than enough time to consider the legislation, the government will insist that Parliament take a decision and that those be matters of confidence in the government,” the prime minister told reporters in Ottawa.
“We will use our mandate wisely. I don’t think you can consider something confidence that isn’t significant enough to fight an election over if you were defeated on it,” he added.
In a reflection of his party’s apparent vulnerability, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion appeared to discount the possibility of voting against the government’s formal policy statement next week. The statement, known as the Speech from the Throne, is a confidence vote.
“We don’t think it would be reasonable to have three elections in three and a half years, on top of the provincial elections we just had,” Dion told reporters in Toronto, referring to this week’s elections in Ontario and the Atlantic province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“But if the Throne Speech is unacceptable to us, and if there is an election, we will be ready.”
In Ottawa, the prime minister said economic and financial matters were all matters of confidence.
“There will be some other matters. The government, for example, has had major pieces of crime legislation sitting before Parliament for a very long time and the government will be determined that that legislation do finally pass,” he said.
Even though the prime minister has raised the stakes, Harper has said the Conservatives’ best way of being re-elected is to continue governing in order to win Canadians’ approval.
Harper was elected in January 2006 and has set October 2009 as the next election date if he is not brought down from power beforehand.
With additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Toronto