OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s minority Conservative government may seek the temporary suspension of Parliament to stop opposition parties from voting it out and taking power, an aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Tuesday.
The Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois signed a deal on Monday committing them to bringing down the government, just seven weeks after it won re-election with a strengthened minority, and forming a coalition government to replace the Conservatives.
The formal agreement quickly triggered one of the worst political crises in Canada’s history.
The opposition — which says Harper is not doing enough to tackle the fallout from the financial crisis — proposed forging a formal coalition of Liberals and New Democrats, with the separatist Bloc promising its support.
The Harper aide, describing the proposed deal with the separatists as “an affront to our democracy (and) incredibly dangerous” for Canada, said the government would fight the coalition plan “with every legal means at our disposal”.
This could involve asking Governor General Michaelle Jean — the personal representative of Queen Elizabeth, Canada’s head of state — to temporarily suspend Parliament, he said.
Jean, who is in Prague on a state visit, said she would cut short her trip to try to resolve the crisis.
“I have decided that it is time for me now to go back home because my presence is required,” she told Reuters. Earlier she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that the drama “certainly requires a lot of attention”.
Jean mainly plays a figurehead role. That said, her word is final when dealing with constitutional matters.
Harper told Parliament that the coalition deal was “the worst mistake the Liberal Party has ever made in its history”.
Conservative legislators chanted “Shame, shame” at the opposition during an often charged session of Parliament.
“The highest principle of Canadian democracy is that if you want to be prime minister, you get your mandate from the Canadian people, not the separatists,” said Harper.
Dion shouted back: “Every member of this House has received a mandate from the Canadian people... The prime minister doesn’t have the support of this House any more.”
The Harper aide said political rallies would be held to protest against the proposed coalition and said Harper might make a national televised address.
The Conservatives also released two radio ads, one of which said: “This is Canada. Power must be earned — not taken.”
Harper — facing his worst crisis since first winning power in January 2006 — has promised a budget for January 27 and could seek to shut down Parliament until then.
If Harper lets the confidence vote go ahead, he would face a strong likelihood of losing.
The Canadian capital has not seen such tension and political uncertainty since a failed 1995 referendum in Quebec on whether the province should break away from Canada.
Under their coalition plan , the opposition parties promise to present a major economic stimulus package as well as help for the struggling auto industry.
The parties said the new prime minister would be Dion, who led his party to such a bad defeat on October 14 that he has promised to quit once members choose a replacement in May.
The proposed coalition government would stay in power until at least June 30, 2010.
Media reaction has been largely negative. Columnist John Ivison of the National Post said the coalition would mean Canada becoming “the world’s coldest banana republic”.
The Globe and Mail, which endorsed Harper in the election, ran a lead article savaging what it called his “horrendous miscalculations” and suggested he consider quitting.
It also said Dion was “a humbled and defeated party leader ... (who) has never earned the right to govern.”
The Conservatives hold 143 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons and need the support of at least one opposition party to remain in power. The Liberals have 77, the Bloc has 49 and the NDP has 37. There are two independents.
Additional reporting by Louise Egan in Ottawa and Jason Hovet in Prague