Canada's opposition eases election tension

Mon Jun 15, 2009 6:19pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren and Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff appeared to step back on Monday, at least partially, from a threat to trigger an early election, saying progress had been made after he laid down an ultimatum to the government.

Earlier in the day Ignatieff had threatened to topple the minority Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper unless it met a series of demands, the main one of which was to detail how it would expand eligibility for jobless benefits.

Harper quickly called a news conference to reject a general easing of eligibility requirements but said he was planning to allow the self-employed to opt into the Employment Insurance system this autumn.

Ignatieff appeared on national television shortly afterwards to say Harper's announcement might go some way to meeting the Liberals' demands.

"I think we made a little progress today," he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. "And the progress is toward making Parliament work for Canadians."

Ignatieff told CTV television that he was willing to listen to Harper's ideas for extending benefits to the self-employed and said he was ready to meet with the prime minister as early as Tuesday.

Ottawa is witnessing a major game of brinkmanship between the two men, who have had a chilly relationship since Ignatieff took over as Liberal leader last December.

Both insisted separately they did not want an election and said the public did not want one either.   Continued...

<p>Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 9, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>