December 4, 2008
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has won a bid to suspend parliament, blocking an opposition attempt to topple his new government.
The governor general agreed to Mr Harper’s request, unprecedented in the country, after talks.
If the request had been rejected, he would have had to step down or face a confidence vote he was sure to lose.
Opposition parties had called the vote for Monday, accusing the government of failing to shore up the economy.
Governor General Michaelle Jean agreed to prorogue – or suspend – parliament until 27 January when the government is set to present its budget.
Ms Jean – the representative of head of state Queen Elizabeth – has the right to make a final decision on such matters.
“Today’s decision will give us an opportunity – I’m talking about all the parties – to focus on the economy and work together,” Mr Harper was quoted as saying by AP news agency after the meeting.
The Conservatives immediately shut down Parliament, ending all debate.
The head of the main Liberal opposition party, Stephane Dion, said he was still committed to bringing down Mr Harper’s government.
“This is about replacing Stephen Harper unless he makes a monumental change of what he has done up to now,” he said.
“Up to now, we don’t believe he will change.”
A prime minister’s request to temporarily suspend parliament had never been turned down, but nor had such a request been made when the government was certain to lose a confidence vote.
“There is no precedent whatsoever in Canada and probably in the Commonwealth,” constitutional expert Ned Franks told AP news agency. “We are in uncharted territory.”
The prime minister’s manoeuvre comes at the end of a week of unprecedented political drama, says the BBC’s Lee Carter in Toronto.
The constitutional crisis was triggered last week after the Conservatives presented a fiscal update that was angrily rejected by the opposition parties for not including an economic stimulus package and for proposing cuts to the public financing of political parties.
The Liberals and New Democrats signed a deal to defeat Mr Harper in a confidence vote scheduled for Monday and form a coalition government.
Mr Harper’s Conservatives won a strengthened minority in the 14 October election but are outnumbered in parliament by the combination of the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois.
Ms Jean cut short a trip to Europe on Wednesday and flew back to Ottawa in an effort to deal with the growing political crisis after the three opposition parties formally advised her of their plan.
Ms Jean’s other options were to have called a general election if the confidence vote went ahead and Mr Harper lost, or to have asked the opposition to form a new government.
In a televised appeal on Wednesday, Mr Harper said the opposition pact was a threat to the country’s democracy and economy.
“At a time like this, a coalition with separatists cannot help Canada,” he said, referring to the Bloc’s desire for independence for Quebec.
“Tonight, I pledge to you that Canada’s government will use every legal means at our disposal to protect our democracy, to protect our economy and to protect Canada.”
Mr Harper called the opposition parties’ power-sharing agreement a “backroom deal”.
Liberal leader Stephane Dion said the suspension of parliament would only delay the inevitable.
“If Mr Harper wants to suspend parliament he must face a vote of confidence,” Mr Dion said in a televised address of his own on Wednesday.
“The Harper Conservatives have lost the confidence of the majority of members of the House of Commons. In our democracy, in our parliamentary system, in our constitution this means that they have lost the right to govern,” he added.
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