January 13, 2009 / 8:55 PM / in 9 years

NDP still plans to reject Harper budget

<p>New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton attends a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 3, 2008. REUTERS/Blair Gable</p>

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s New Democratic Party remains ready to bring down the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper over his budget, even before seeing details of the spending plan, senior party legislators said on Tuesday.

The NDP has no power to unseat Harper on its own, with only 37 seats in the 308-member House of Commons. But late last year it formed a coalition with the main opposition Liberals, with backing of the separatist Bloc Quebecois. Combined, they would have enough clout to defeat the minority government.

“It’s highly unlikely,” NDP legislator Thomas Mulcair told reporters when asked if his party would support the budget.

“There’s a lot of skepticism on our end as to whether or not they’re sincere, as to whether or not they can be believed.”

However, he allowed for a remote chance of a last-minute change of heart if Finance Minister Jim Flaherty agreed to the opposition’s ideas. “Miracles happen,” he said.

Mulcair and NDP legislator Judy Wasylycia-Leis are meeting with Flaherty to discuss the budget later on Tuesday.

Flaherty will present the 2009-10 budget to Parliament on January 27 and a vote -- automatically a vote of confidence in the government -- will be held in the following days.

If all three opposition parties reject the plan, expected to contain a stimulus package and set the stage for the country’s first deficit in 13 years, they will either push the country into its fourth election in less than five years or ask the governor general for permission to take power.

The governor general, Michaelle Jean, is the representative of Canada’s head of state Queen Elizabeth.

Adding to the uncertainty, the Liberals’ new leader Michael Ignatieff has been more cautious about replacing Harper since he took over the party leadership on December 10. There is speculation he might abandon the coalition idea, negotiated by his predecessor Stephane Dion, and opt to face the electorate on his own at a later date.

Unlike the NDP, the Liberals have said they want to see the budget before taking a stance on it.

Mulcair was hopeful Ignatieff would continue to team up with the NDP. “It takes the three opposition parties to form a government,” he said.

Canadians gave Harper a strengthened minority in the last election on October 14. The window for the coalition to feasibly present itself as an alternative is considered to be about six months after an election, or mid-April.

Reporting by Louise Egan; Editing by Frank McGurty

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