New Liberal leader Ignatieff threatens, cajoles

Wed Dec 10, 2008 5:23pm EST
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Newly minted Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff warned Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday he is prepared to topple the minority Conservative government but he also opened the door to compromise.

Ignatieff said he was willing to form a coalition government with the New Democratic Party, or fight another election -- even though the Conservatives crushed the Liberals in October -- unless Harper becomes more collaborative.

"So the ball is in Mr. Harper's court," Ignatieff, a former Harvard historian, told a news conference just after the party chose him to replace Stephane Dion, who stepped down because of the electoral loss.

"Mr. Harper now has a choice. He can continue down this path of divisive politics or he can start working constructively with Parliament. The choice is his."

Ignatieff, who is expected to try to nudge the party away from the left and more to the political center, took a softer line with Harper than those who favored bringing down the Conservatives, no matter what, after Parliament reconvenes on January 26 and the government presents its promised budget the next day.

He nonetheless sought to show that he would not be a pushover, declaring that Harper had lost the confidence of the House of Commons and had to earn it back.

"I am prepared to vote non-confidence in this government, and I am prepared to enter into a coalition government with our partners," he said.

Last week, the Liberals signed a formal agreement with the left-leaning New Democratic Party and the separatist Bloc Quebecois to try to bring the Conservatives down and install a Liberal-NDP government.   Continued...

<p>Liberal Member of Parliament Michael Ignatieff talks with caucus members following a meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 10, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>