November 17, 2008 / 3:35 PM / 9 years ago

Canadian government to face confidence tests

4 Min Read

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (C) holds a news conference with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (R) at the Canadian Embassy after the G20 Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy in Washington, November 15, 2008.Jonathan Ernst</p>

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Conservative government will face at least one confidence test as the new parliamentary session begins but it said on Monday it would focus on economic measures on which it hopes to find broad agreement.

It will unveil the general thrust of its plans for the new Parliament on Wednesday in the Speech from the Throne, with ceremonies beginning at 1:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) and the speech being read at 2 p.m.

Most of the speech will address the economic crisis, making only passing reference to what the government has determined to be secondary portfolios such as its hot-button pledge to get tougher on crime.

"We can do more than one thing at once but it's important that you set priorities ... especially in a minority Parliament," a senior aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters on condition he not be identified.

"Canadians want their government not squabbling about secondary issues. I think they want them finding consensus and agreement on the large issues around the economy."

The Conservatives retained power with a strengthened minority in the October 14 election but must still rely on support from one of the three opposition parties.

The House of Commons must eventually endorse the speech or the government will fall and a new election would likely then have to be called.

In practice, the opposition usually lets the speech pass so soon after an election, but the remote possibility exists that the government could lose such a vote.

Harper heads into this first week of the new Parliament fresh from the Washington summit of the Group of 20 leading developed and developing nations, which agreed to use fiscal measures to stimulate domestic demand as appropriate.

The aide said the government might signal it will advance campaign promises that are stimulative while delaying cost-saving measures.

The government is also looking at how U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will approach the fiscal side, along with trying to juggle demands from Canada's provinces and industries.

"Part of the concept of working with the other G20 leaders and also working with provinces is that what we roll out we do in concert with what others are doing," the aide said, adding that the direction the incoming Obama administration will take in a number of areas is yet to be determined.

One area in which Canada is trying to co-ordinate with Washington is in aid to automakers, and the aide said it was premature to indicate in Wednesday's speech what, if anything, would be done.

Jack Layton, leader of the small New Democratic Party, called for Harper to help in transforming various industries in a targeted way rather than by using broad tax cuts.

"It's essential to have a economic strategy for the key sectors, including the auto, forestry and other essential manufacturing sectors," Layton told reporters.

Another area for possible co-ordination with the United States is in fighting climate change.

"In terms of a) viewing climate change as a problem and b) wanting to see climate change reductions of a similar size and over a similar timeline, we have more common ground in that area with the president-elect than we did with the previous administration," the aide said.

The Speech from the Throne could face a final vote by the late afternoon of November 27 -- six business days after it is delivered. The government does not have to schedule the six required days of debate consecutively, however, so the vote could take place later.

The House could also see confidence votes on an amendment to the speech by the main opposition Liberal Party, as early as November 25, as well as a subamendment by the Bloc Quebecois as early as November 24. The government may accept such amendments, but it has the prerogative to turn them into confidence votes.

Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson

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