August 19, 2008 / 4:24 PM / 9 years ago

Harper might pull plug on Parliament

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers a speech to Conservative Party supporters at the Croatian Parish Park in Mississauga, August 18, 2008.Mike Cassese</p>

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Tuesday he would decide in coming weeks whether an election is needed to give a new mandate to a Parliament that he has increasingly described as dysfunctional.

Harper, who has expressed growing frustration with what he calls Liberal Party obstruction, has recently begun hinting he might force the dissolution of Parliament and call a new election.

The Conservatives won the last general election in January 2006 with only a minority of seats in the House of Commons, meaning they must rely on the support of at least one opposition party to govern.

Polls put the Conservatives in a virtual tie with the main opposition Liberals, and Harper allowed that the most likely result of a new vote would be another minority government.

"I think polls do indicate that the next election in all likelihood would be a minority, one way or the other," he told reporters during a funding announcement in Hamilton, Ontario.

"But the fact of the matter is what I will have to decide over the next few weeks is whether or not we can have a productive fall session of Parliament, or whether in fact the government -- a government -- needs a new mandate."

He said he would seek the input of some opposition leaders in analyzing the situation to "ensure that, one way or another, we can have a productive Parliament in the future."

An Ipsos-Reid poll released on Tuesday showed that public opinion is beginning to tip in favor of pulling the plug.

"Canadians appear to be warming to the idea of an election," the pollsters said in a statement.

In the spring, only 27 percent of Canadians wanted an election but that has grown to 40 percent, slightly ahead of the 38 percent who currently see no need for a vote.

The poll, released by the CanWest newspapers, also found the Conservatives ahead 36 percent to 30 percent for the Liberals -- just inside the margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The Conservatives advanced two points since Ipsos Reid's survey two weeks earlier.

By contrast, a Harris-Decima poll released last week put the Liberals ahead by 33 percent to 32 percent.

Harper said the two smallest opposition parties in Parliament -- the separatist Bloc Quebecois and the New Democrats -- both wanted an election now but that Liberal leader Stephane Dion was dithering.

"Mr. Dion has indicated that the government should be defeated, but he's not sure when he'll do that, because he hasn't got good enough polls. I don't think that's a particularly responsible position," Harper said.

With each pronouncement, the prime minister is making it clearer that he does not consider himself bound to wait for an election until the fixed date of October 19, 2009, that his government put in law.

The act has generally been understood to mean the prime minister would not trigger an election himself, but it does allow for the dissolution of Parliament before the fixed date if the government is defeated in a vote of confidence.

A centerpiece of any campaign will likely be the Liberals' carbon tax plan, aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The plan calls for the carbon tax to be offset by income tax cuts and subsidies for the poor.

Harper said on Tuesday that new taxes were not appropriate particularly during economically difficult times.

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