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Canada governor-general returns to tackle crisis

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian governor-general Michaelle Jean -- the acting head of state -- said on Tuesday she would cut short a foreign trip and return to Canada to help resolve a major political crisis.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion (L) looks on as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, December 1, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, trying to prevent opposition parties from defeating his minority Conservative government in a confidence vote next Monday, could move to shut down Parliament temporarily but needs Jean’s permission to do so.

Jean, who is in Prague, will fly back on Wednesday rather than Saturday. She is the personal representative of Queen Elizabeth, Canada’s head of state.

“This decision has been made in light of the current political situation in Canada,” her office announced.

The opposition Liberals, New Democrats and separatist Bloc Quebecois signed an unprecedented deal on Monday to bring down Harper and create a coalition government that would keep them in power until at least June 30, 2010.

The opposition says Harper is not doing enough to tackle the financial crisis.

Speculation is mounting that Harper -- facing his worst crisis since first winning power in January 2006 -- will seek to shut down Parliament until a budget the government has promised for January 27.

Ottawa says the coalition deal showed the opposition were twisting the rules of democracy. The Conservatives won a strengthened minority in an Oct 14 election.

“It used to be in Canadian politics that you had to win an election in order to become the prime minister of this country,” Heritage Minister James Moore said on Tuesday.

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Natural Resources Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn on Monday called the opposition deal “a coup d’etat.”

Moore told CTV television that the Liberals and the New Democrats had lied to Canadians during the campaign when they promised not to form a coalition.

“Now they’re entering into an agreement, giving the balance of power to Quebec separatists and Canadians are rightly outraged by this ... it’s not what Canadians voted for.”

The Bloc wants independence for French-speaking Quebec but said on Monday this aim was trumped for now by the crisis.

The parties promised a major stimulus package as well as help for the struggling auto industry.

The opposition parties said the new prime minister would be Liberal leader Stephane Dion, who led his party to such a bad defeat on October 14 that he has promised to step down once members choose a replacement in May.

If Harper lets confidence vote go ahead, he would run a big risk of losing.

CTV television quoted Harper as telling a private meeting of Conservatives on Monday evening that he would take every legal option possible to stop what he called an “affront to Canadian democracy.”

The three opposition parties are also angry that Harper last week tried to eliminate public financing for political parties, a move that would hit them particularly hard.

The Globe and Mail newspaper said the Conservatives were planning rallies across the country this weekend and said Harper could make a nationwide address in the coming days.

The paper, 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.”

Reporting by David Ljunggren