OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper failed on Tuesday to win support for his minority government from the New Democratic Party as political leaders mull whether to force a new federal election.
In what was always a long shot, the Conservative prime minister met with the NDP leader to discuss ways to avoid what would be Canada’s second election in 13 months. But NDP leader Jack Layton offered the government no support.
“As I’ve said before, the NDP would be the least likely of the political parties to support the Conservatives in office, because we have very fundamental differences with the direction that they’re taking, and as of today’s meeting I can’t say that I feel any optimism that they’re going to change direction,” Layton told reporters after meeting Harper.
An election call could come as early as late September or early October, if the main opposition Liberal Party decides to propose a motion of non-confidence. The Conservatives need support from at least one other party to stay in power.
Most recent polls give neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives a clear chance winning a new election, although a survey issued on Monday put the Conservatives 11 points ahead.
The Conservatives, who won a strengthened minority in an election last October, argue that Canada’s economic recovery is too fragile to risk another election now.
“We’re hearing the Canadian public telling us this is a very dangerous time to have an election,” Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas said before the meeting with Layton.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, told the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir in an interview published on Monday that an election would not create 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.
He said he had made no decision yet on whether the Liberals could keep working with the Conservatives.
The Liberal caucus meets in Sudbury, Ontario, next week, with support for the government bound to top the agenda.
Layton has asked for more accessible employment insurance, consumer credit card protection, help for seniors and a more effective infrastructure program, and said he would need to see movement there before he could support the government.
He said he had seen no movement on these.
He refused to pledge to vote against the government, saying he preferred to continue to apply pressure, but told reporters to look at the record of how his party had opposed the Conservatives on key votes.
The Bloc Quebecois, a separatist party that campaigns only in French-speaking Quebec, has tended to vote against the government, but spokeswoman Karine Sauve said its decision on a non-confidence vote would depend on what the Liberals did.
“We’ll see the Liberal motion and judge whether it’s in Quebec’s interests,” she said.
Editing by Janet Guttsman