Harper wins suspension of Parliament

Thu Dec 4, 2008 6:16pm EST
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By Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper won a rare suspension of Parliament on Thursday, managing to avoid being ousted by opposition parties angry over the minority Conservative government's economic plans and an attempt to cut off party financing.

Governor General Michaelle Jean -- the representative of Queen Elizabeth, Canada's head of state -- agreed to Harper's request to shut down Parliament until Jan 26. Parliament was reconvened just weeks ago after the October 14 election.

Harper's request for suspension was unprecedented. No prime minister had asked for Parliament to be suspended to avoid a confidence vote in the House of Commons.

Such a vote had been set for Monday and the Conservatives almost certainly would have lost it, and faced the possibility of being replaced by a coalition of opposition parties.

After a two-hour meeting with the governor general, Harper reaffirmed his promise to present a budget on Jan 27 and called on the opposition to work with the government over the next few weeks to tackle the effects of the global financial crisis.

"Today's decision will give us an opportunity -- and I'm talking about all the parties -- to focus on the economy and to work together," he told reporters.

The opposition Liberals, New Democrats and the separatist Bloc Quebecois -- all to the left of the Conservatives -- had signed a deal to defeat the Conservatives and put forward a Liberal-New Democrat coalition to form a new government.

The Bloc, which wants to take French-speaking Quebec out of Canada, pledged to back the coalition's budgets and general policy direction.   Continued...

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at Rideau Hall in Ottawa December 4, 2008 following his meeting with Governor General Michaelle Jean. Harper, battling to stay in power, persuaded the country's acting head of state on Thursday to suspend Parliament so he could avoid being ousted by opposition parties next week. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>