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Leftists' ire threatens Canadian coalition

Canada’s leftist New Democratic Party withdrew support for the scandal-hit minority Liberal government Monday, setting the stage for its possible collapse and an early election.
New Democratic Party leader Layton adjusts his poppy on Parliament Hill in Ottawa
The New Democratic Party, led by Jack Layton, has been the only party keeping the Liberal government in power.Chris Wattie / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

Canada’s leftist New Democratic Party yanked its support for the scandal-hit minority Liberal government Monday, setting the stage for its possible collapse and an election in December or early January.

NDP leader Jack Layton said his party would vote against the Liberals in any future confidence vote. Canada’s other opposition parties said they would do the same, though none would commit to putting forward such a motion.

The NDP’s policy shift came after recent opinion polls showed a slump in support for the Liberals after the release of a report into a government corruption scandal.

“We cannot express confidence in a government that is under the leadership of a party that cannot be trusted to clean up the politics that it tainted,” Layton said in Toronto.

The New Democrats have been the only party willing to keep the government in power and they wrung spending concessions from the Liberals in April in exchange for backing the budget.

But the partnership foundered when the Liberals rejected NDP proposals to limit private medicine. Layton said he was still open to an offer from Prime Minister Paul Martin, but thought this nearly impossible.

“If Mr. Martin were to do a 180-degree turn and completely change the position that he gave to us, you always have to be willing to hear somebody out. I don’t think there’s really any possibility of that happening,” he said.

Conservative Stephen Harper, leader of the largest opposition party, said the report showed the Liberals had lost the moral authority to govern.

The document highlighted kickbacks to Quebec Liberals during a badly administered advertising campaign to boost the image of Canada in the French-speaking province.

The report broke little new ground — the evidence emerged months ago in a public inquiry — but renewed focus on the scandal drained popular support from the ruling party.

Waning support for Liberals
An opinion poll released on Saturday showed that just 28 percent of voters would back the Liberals if an election were held now, down from 38 percent three weeks ago.

Backing for the Conservatives rose to 31 percent, from 25 percent three weeks ago, and 20 percent said they would back the NDP, up from 17 percent.

The poll would almost certainly translate into another minority government, although possibly a Conservative one rather than a Liberal one.

Canada’s third opposition party is the Bloc Quebecois, which supports Quebec independence and only runs candidates in the province.

Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said he would vote to bring down the government if the other two opposition parties did so too. ”I don’t have any more confidence in that government,” he said.

The first opportunity for a confidence motion will be on Nov. 15, with a vote possible on Nov. 16. If the government is defeated, Prime Minister Paul Martin would have to seek the dissolution of Parliament and there would be a new election.

There are three other “opposition days” in November and then on Dec. 8 there is a vote on government spending, which also can trigger an election without any opposition party having to put forward a motion of their own.

The Conservatives and Bloc said it was up to Layton to take the initiative on setting the date for a confidence vote.

The Liberals, in power since 1993, have 133 members in the 308-seat House of Commons. The Conservatives have 98, the Bloc Quebecois 54 and the NDP 18. There are four independents and one seat is vacant.