Canadian opposition leader faces pressure to quit

Sat Dec 6, 2008 3:40pm EST
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By Jeffrey Jones

TORONTO (Reuters) - The leader of Canada's main opposition party faced a growing chorus of calls on Saturday to step aside immediately just two days after he looked poised to take power in the country as head of a center-left coalition.

Members of Stephane Dion's Liberal Party and editorials called for his quick ouster after Prime Minister Stephen Harper won a rare suspension of Parliament, allowing his Conservative government to avoid being defeated in a confidence vote.

Concerns about Dion's ability to keep leading the Liberals -- and the multiparty coalition formed to defeat the Harper government over its response to the economic crisis -- intensified as Canadians gathered at raucous rallies across the country Saturday in support of both sides in the battle.

The most prominent call for a speedy exit came from former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley, who said Dion had become an obstacle who had bound the party to the coalition with the left-wing New Democratic Party with the support of the Bloc Quebecois, which wants to take Quebec out of Canada.

"I believe the first step for my party is to replace Stephane Dion as leader with someone whose first job is to rebuild the Liberal Party, rather than leading a coalition with the NDP," Manley wrote in an op-ed column in the Globe and Mail newspaper.

Dion, 53, had agreed to step aside after the party's dismal showing in the October 14 election, which saw Harper's Conservatives returned with a stronger minority. But he said he would remain leader until a new one is chosen in early May.


Last week, when they announced the formation of the coalition to defeat Harper, the opposition leaders said Dion, who sometimes struggles in English, would become prime minister after winning a vote in the House of Commons.   Continued...

<p>Liberal Leader Stephane Dion (L) and New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton (R) greet supporters during a pro-coalition government rally at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, December 6, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Cassese</p>