OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting with the head of an opposition party on Tuesday afternoon as political leaders mulled whether to risk forcing an early election in coming months.
Harper issued the invitation to Jack Layton, leader of the small New Democratic Party (NDP), after Layton suggested last month that they talk before Parliament returns from its summer break.
The governing Conservative Party has only a minority of seats in the House of Commons and needs the support of one of the three opposition parties to stay in power.
The Conservatives are sending out the message that the country's economic recovery is too fragile to risk holding another election campaign and possibly changing the government so soon after last October's vote.
"We're hearing the Canadian public telling us this is a very dangerous time to have an election," Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas said.
The head of the largest opposition party, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, told the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir in an interview published on Monday that an election at this point would not create any instability.
"We could have an election without endangering anything at all. You could even say it would be good for the country, but that's another story," Ignatieff said.
However, he added that he was still mulling whether to try to pull the plug on the government, asking himself whether the Liberal Party was ready, whether this would be in the national interest, and whether it was possible to continue working with the Conservatives.
The topic will be front and center when the Liberal caucus meets in Sudbury, Ontario, next week. Most recent opinion polls show neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have a clear chance of victory if an election were held today.
Regardless of the Liberals' decision, any move to bring down the government through a non-confidence motion would have to be supported by both the NDP and the separatist Bloc Quebecois.
The left-leaning NDP would not be a natural working partner with the Conservatives, and it has said it would support a non-confidence motion. In the past, however, it has sometimes been willing to work with governing parties on specific issues it supports.
"There's no confidence motion now in front of the House, so we're not going to discuss bringing the government down," NDP spokesman Marc-Andre Viau said.
The Bloc has also tended to vote against the government, but spokeswoman Karine Sauve said its decision on a non-confidence vote would depend on what motion the Liberals might bring in late September or early October.
"We'll see the Liberal motion and judge whether it's in Quebec's interests," she said.
If there were an election, it would not be held before November. It would be the second in a year and the fourth in a little more than five years.
Editing by Rob Wilson