Canada PM Trudeau puts fate of government on line with call for confidence vote

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday put the fate of his Liberal government on the line, saying an opposition push to probe how Ottawa is tackling the coronavirus would be put to a confidence vote on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada September 25, 2020. REUTERS/Blair Gable/File Photo

The Liberals, who only won a minority of seats in an October 2019 election, need backing from another party to survive. Trudeau’s fate depends on the left-leaning New Democrats, whose leader Jagmeet Singh said he had no interest in a vote.

“I will not give the prime minister an excuse to plunge the country into an election ... my goal is to help people and I will continue doing that,” said Singh, who nevertheless did not say how his party would vote on Wednesday.

The Liberals are under attack from the official opposition Conservatives, who allege some of the more than C$200 billion ($152.5 billion) handed out in coronavirus aid programs has been misspent.

The Conservatives want to create a committee to examine what they call the government’s ethical problems. One area of focus is payments to Trudeau’s wife and mother by a charity chosen to manage a student grant program.

Trudeau, who insists he does not want an early election, said the mandate of the proposed committee showed the opposition had lost confidence in him. There is some speculation in Ottawa that he wants to go to voters before some of the expensive aid programs are wound down.

But a Canadian Broadcasting Corp aggregate tracker of recent opinion polls put the Liberals at 36.5% public support, with the Conservatives at 30.8%, which strongly suggests another minority for Trudeau.

“The opposition is going to have to decide whether they want to make this minority parliament work or whether they have lost confidence in the government,” said Trudeau, who is proposing a committee with a broader mandate to probe the response to a pandemic that has killed 9,778 people in Canada.

Singh told reporters he had his own suggestions on how the committee should work and said the two sides were close.

But he also blasted Trudeau’s stance as ludicrous and farcical, and accused the prime minister of seeking an election while blaming the opposition. The vote is set for around 3:15 p.m. Eastern (1915 GMT).

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole - who must decide whether he wants to continue his efforts - earlier told reporters that what he called a misuse of funds should be probed.

The Canadian dollar was little changed on the news. It had earlier edged higher against the greenback as investors weighed the prospects for U.S. economic stimulus.

($1=1.3113 Canadian dollars)

Additional reporting by Fergal Smith in Toronto; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Bernadette Baum and Sandra Maler