Canada May Oust Conservative Government Just Two Months After Election

December 3, 2008 - 2:04 PM
Canadian governor general mulls government's fate.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (AP photo)

Toronto (AP) - Canada's governor general cut short a European trip Tuesday to deal with an unprecedented political crisis that could force the second national election in two months or see an opposition coalition take power.

Michaelle Jean, who is the representative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, holds a mostly ceremonial position. But it will be her decision which path to take if the opposition votes to oust Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government.
Constitutional experts speculated Jean would probably allow the opposition to form a government since parliamentary elections were just held Oct. 14.
 
The Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois, which together control a majority in Parliament, signed a pact Monday agreeing to vote to oust Harper's minority government next week and setting the structure for their proposed coalition government.

Harper is maneuvering to head off the no-confidence vote set for Monday. He was expected to ask Jean to call new elections or to suspend Parliament until next month, delaying his likely defeat in a confidence vote.

The Conservatives are pursuing a public relations campaign against the opposition that includes radio ads saying power should be earned and not taken.

No Canadian government has ever been ousted in a confidence vote and replaced by an opposition coalition without an intervening election. Nor has a governor general ever been asked to suspend Parliament to delay an ouster vote when it was clear the government didn't have the confidence of a majority of legislators.

The opposition contends Harper has not come up with a solid plan for dealing with the global economic crisis. The move against him was also triggered by a since-dropped proposal to scrap public subsidies for political parties, something the opposition groups rely on much more than the Conservatives. Analysts call the proposal a colossal mistake that unified the opposition against him.

Heading back to Canada, Jean said she had received a letter from the three opposition parties formally advising her of their plan to topple Harper and urging her to let them form a coalition government.
 
"The prime minister and myself need to have a conversation," Jean told Canadian Broadcasting Corp. in Prague, Czech Republic. "My door is open. I have to see what the prime minister has to say to me and what he is actually thinking of doing. I don't know exactly anything of his intentions yet."

Jean, who is scheduled to return Wednesday, has been working closely with her advisers and constitutional experts, her office said.

Harper vowed to fight the opposition plan.

"We will use all legal means to resist this undemocratic seizure of power," he told Conservatives at their annual Christmas party at an Ottawa hotel. "My friends, such an illegitimate government would be a catastrophe, for our democracy, our unity and our economy, especially at a time of global instability."

Jean didn't appear to share Harper's assessment.

"This is part of our democratic system," she said. "The role of the governor general is to make sure that our governance is on the right path. So as soon as I'm back I will fulfill my duties in total, sound judgment."

Nelson Wiseman, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, said it would be unprecedented for Harper to ask Jean to suspend Parliament until next month because he clearly doesn't have the confidence of Parliament.
 
"I don't think she should, but somebody else could say, 'Look, there's no precedent for you turning down a prime minister asking for it," Wiseman said.