OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s Conservative Party looked set to continue in power for the near term at least on Wednesday after an opposition coalition that sought to replace the minority government collapsed.
The main opposition Liberal Party announced its conditional support for the government’s 2009 budget and economic stimulus plan, allowing the Conservatives to survive, and killing off the opposition parties’ plan to install a coalition government.
“The coalition is dead, it’s finished, it’s over,” said Gilles Duceppe, leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, one of the three parties that had signed an agreement last month to topple Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government at the first opportunity.
The coalition idea had proved unpopular with the electorate and the cash-strapped Liberals appeared unwilling to risk the alternative, a fourth election in five years, if they brought down the government, which was just reelected in October.
“Canadians don’t want another election, and they’re tired of political games,” the new Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, told a news conference. He said the government’s deficit-laden budget, released on Tuesday, responded to the needs of the present.
“What (Canadians) want from me is political action that shows a sense of responsibility and I’m trying to do that,” Ignatieff said.
He said he would present an amendment to the main budget motion on Wednesday afternoon requiring the government to report back on its budget implementation in March, June and December.
“We are putting this government on probation,” Ignatieff said. “Each of these reports will be an opportunity to withdraw our confidence should the government fail Canadians...We will be watching like hawks to make sure the investments Canadians need actually reach them.”
The government did not say immediately whether it would agree to Ignatieff’s requirements but it seemed likely it would as the amendment amounted to a matter of process that would change nothing in the actual budget.
Ignatieff said the planned C$85 billion ($70 billion) in deficits over five years that were announced in the budget had come right up against the limit of what was tolerable. The budget includes a two-year C$40 billion stimulus package.
He warned that the government “will not survive long” if its budget reports are not satisfactory.
New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton bitterly criticized Ignatieff for what he said was the creation of a new coalition — one with Harper.
“Far from holding (Harper’s) feet to the fire, he’s given him a ‘get out of jail’ card for free,” Layton said.
The amendment would put Ignatieff in the tricky position of justifying, every time there is a confidence vote in Parliament, why he, as leader of the official opposition, is keeping the government in power.
The man Ignatieff replaced last month at the head of the Liberal Party, Stephane Dion, had argued that the party should not automatically have to vote against the government but drew ridicule from his opponents for keeping Harper in power.
“Mr. Ignatieff has decided to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Dion,” the New Democrats’ Layton scoffed.
Additional reporting by Louise Egan and David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway