Harper says chief rival weakening the country

Wed Dec 3, 2008 5:33pm EST
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By Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper, battling an opposition move to defeat his minority Conservative government, accused his chief rival on Wednesday of weakening Canada by signing a pact with separatists.

Harper, who is expected to seek the temporary shutdown of Parliament ahead of a confidence vote scheduled for next Monday, also said Liberal leader Stephane Dion could defuse the crisis by working with him to tackle a worsening economy.

The prime minister will address the nation on Wednesday at 7 p.m. EST (2400 GMT) as part of a growing political and constitutional battle over whether the opposition should be allowed to replace his government.

The Conservatives won an increased minority in the October 14 general election, and Harper has been arguing that a deal by the three opposition parties to bring down the government and form a coalition government would undermine democracy.

Harper says he is particularly outraged that the Liberals and the left-leaning New Democrats -- who would form the coalition government -- have signed a deal to gain the support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which wants independence for French-speaking Quebec.

"The leader of the Liberal Party is not working with us to prepare the budget and to strengthen this economy but to weaken this country," he told a rowdy session of Parliament.

"Why does the prime minister care more about his own job than allowing Parliament to save the jobs of Canadians?" Dion retorted.

Harper replied: "If the leader of the Liberal Party wants to save the jobs of Canadians he can put on the table specific proposals ... he can reach across the aisle and work with this government which will be pleased to work with him on saving this economy. But he must walk away from this deal."   Continued...

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 3, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>