Crisis-torn Canada suspends parliament

Published: Thursday December 4, 2008

Canada's crisis-torn parliament was suspended Thursday in a move which helped Prime Minister Stephen Harper block an opposition bid to topple his government and take over without fresh elections.

Acting head of state, Governor General Michaelle Jean, agreed to Harper's demand to suspend the two-week old assembly during two hours of crisis talks.

"On my advice, the governor-general has agreed to prorogue parliament," Harper said, after a week of turmoil when three opposition parties banded together to oust his new government.

The Liberal opposition led by Stephane Dion has spearheaded the moves to topple the Conservative government, accusing Harper of failing to shore up the plunging economy in the Group of Eight nation.

The opposition had scheduled a parliamentary vote of no-confidence on Monday, leaving Harper fighting for his survival just seven weeks after being re-elected at the head of a minority government in snap elections.

But Harper vowed Thursday: "When parliament resumes on January 26, the first order of business will be the presentation of a federal budget."

He had urged Jean, the representative of Queen Elizabeth II, to suspend the parliament to give his government time to draw up a new budget to present to the national assembly.

Dion had urged Jean not to suspend the parliament, pushing instead for the three-party opposition alliance, including Quebec separatists, to be installed in its place without fresh elections.

Opposition politicians notably accuse the government of failing to boost the country's economy as it confronts the global financial crisis.

But the turmoil was also triggered when the government sought to cut public subsidies to political parties, a move which would have hit the opposition groups the hardest.

Harper said Thursday that Canadians had overwhelming shown "they want Canada's government to continue to work on the agenda that Canadians voted for, our plan to strengthen the economy."

And he urged Canadians in a televised address on Wednesday to reject the opposition's bid to oust his government, saying the country was facing "a pivotal moment in our history."

"Canadians take pride in our history as one of the world's oldest continuous democracies," said the prime minister.

"During the past 141 years, political parties have emerged and disappeared, leaders have come and gone, and governments have changed.

"Constant in every case however is the principle that Canada's government has always been chosen by the people."

Under the Canadian constitution, the governor general has the power to accept or reject the prime minister's request to suspend parliament.

Constitutional experts say no governor general has ever refused a prime minister's request to suspend parliament. But then no premier has ever requested such a move so soon after an election.

Opposition leader Dion had rejected any move to halt the work of the assembly.

"The Harper Conservatives have lost the confidence of the majority of members of the House of Commons ... They have lost the right to govern," Dion said in his own address to the nation.

"We believe we can better solve the challenges facing Canada through teamwork and collaboration, rather than blind partisan feuding and hostility."