OTTAWA (Reuters) - Declaring the Canadian Parliament to be at an impasse, Prime Minister Stephen Harper signaled on Tuesday that he could call an election by as early as next week.
"There are increasing indications it will not be possible to have a fruitful session of Parliament because of the impasse between ourselves and the opposition on a number of files, particularly on key economic issues," Harper said.
"The country must have a government that can function during a time of economic uncertainty, and if it's not this government or this Parliament, the public will have an opportunity to decide whom," he said.
Harper's assertions were quickly dismissed by Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion who has questioned the prime minister's increasing election talk in recent weeks.
"Today is an additional episode of a continuing saga of a fabricated emergency by the prime minister," Dion said.
Harper's office had previously said he wanted to reach a decision before Parliament's scheduled September 15 return from its summer recess.
But he said on Tuesday he was now considering doing this before by-elections scheduled for September 8 to fill three vacant seats in the House of Commons.
The election timing may hinge on whether, and when, he can hold discussions with Dion to see if there is any common ground to allow the current Parliament to continue.
Harper cited apparent Liberal reluctance to meet or take his phone calls as evidence of an impasse.
"Certainly spending weeks and weeks playing telephone tag with guys doesn't help me confirm that things are going to be very productive," he said.
The Liberal leader said on Tuesday the issues were too important to kiss off with a quick phone call. He said Harper should wait until Parliament returns if he plans to dissolve it and call an election.
"What is his agenda? Nobody has any idea what his agenda is," Dion told a news conference in Toronto. "He wants me to agree with it on the phone? This is a joke."
Dion's staff had said he was willing to meet with Harper the day after the September 8 by-elections. He said he also offered to meet on Tuesday, but Harper, who was heading to the Arctic after his news conference, was unavailable.
Harper also said that now that the Liberals had come out with plans to implement a national carbon tax, while cutting income taxes, it had become impossible to find common ground since the government was diametrically opposed to the idea.
The minority Conservative government was elected in January 2006 and opinion polls show it is neck and neck with the main opposition Liberal Party.
One recent opinion poll put the Conservatives five points ahead of the Liberals, while another put them one point behind.
Another minority government is widely seen as the likely result of a fresh vote.
In 2006, the government passed legislation that set October 19, 2009, as a fixed election date, but Harper has said that since the opposition has no intention of letting him serve until then, the government needed to create some certainty by calling an election sooner.
Additional reporting by John McCrank in Toronto; editing by Rob Wilson