OTTAWA (Reuters) - Declaring the Canadian Parliament to be at an impasse, Prime Minister Stephen Harper signaled on Tuesday that he could trigger an election campaign 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 office had previously said he wanted to reach a decision before Parliament's scheduled September 15 return from its summer recess. But the prime minister 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 Conservative leader, speaking after a news conference on development of the Arctic, said he would have to judge whether it was appropriate to have people in those electoral districts vote twice within just a few weeks.
Harper's minority government was elected in January 2006 and opinion polls show it is neck and neck with the main opposition Liberal Party, led by Stephane Dion.
One recent opinion poll put the Conservatives five points ahead of the Liberals, while another put them one point behind.
Another minority government is seen as the likely result of a fresh vote.
Harper recognized that current opinion polls "aren't particularly wonderful" for the Conservatives but said it was his responsibility to decide whether Parliament's fall session had a chance of being productive.
In 2006, Harper pushed through legislation that set October 19, 2009 as a fixed election date, but he 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.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Ted Kerr