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SUDBURY, Ontario (Reuters) - Canada's Liberals insisted on Wednesday they want to bring down the minority Conservative government, even as a smaller opposition party offered the year-old government a tenuous lifeline.
"We're not in negotiations here," emboldened Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told reporters at the end of a Liberal Party retreat in northern Ontario at which he decided to try to force what would be Canada's fourth election in 5-1/2 years.
Still, the small opposition New Democratic Party and Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper said they were willing to try to find common ground, though the Conservatives are not close ideologically to the left-leaning NDP. Neither held out high hopes.
"There's a difference between propping up the Conservatives and making a minority Parliament work," NDP national director Brad Lavigne told CTV television.
"We want to make Parliament work. We're willing to obviously look at issues as they arise. We're not going to predict how we'll vote on things we haven't seen."
NDP leader Jack Layton said after meeting Harper last week that his party would be the least likely to support the Conservatives, and it remained unclear what terms the NDP might set as conditions for backing the government. He will speak on Thursday.
The Liberals, the NDP and the separatist Bloc Quebecois would all have to join forces to bring down the government.
There was no immediate sign the Conservatives were talking with either of the smaller opposition parties but Harper, reelected last October with a strengthened mandate, left the door open.
"If people want to work together on things that will help the economy, we're willing to do that. But we have no indication of that from Mr. Layton," he said during a funding announcement in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
"If the NDP or any other party has ideas, specific ideas, to the economy that are effective and affordable, we will always consider them."
Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe left his intentions thoroughly vague and did not speak of any plans to reach out to Harper.
"We're not asking ourselves -- do we want an election or not? We're considering each issue ... if it's good for Quebec, if it goes in Quebec's interest and direction, we're supporting it," Duceppe told a news conference in Quebec.
The Liberals say the government has mismanaged Canada's recovery from recession. The Conservatives -- in a sentiment echoed in many editorials -- say an early election could put that recovery at risk.
"Forcing an unwanted and unnecessary election at a time when Canada is beating back the global recession is what makes Michael Ignatieff out of touch with ordinary Canadians," said Dimitri Soudas, spokesman to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The Liberals had kept the Conservatives in power until now, but Ignatieff now says he will force a confidence vote at the earliest opportunity.
He pledged to eliminate the budget deficit without raising taxes, reversing early remarks last December and April, when he said he would not take tax hikes off the table.
A new Canadian election is not scheduled before 2012, but if the opposition parties defeat the government on a major issue, the government falls and Canadians vote again.
Opinion polls show that it is risky to head into an election now. No party has a clear lead and Harper is generally seen as more competent than the other party leaders on the economy.
The most likely scenario seems to be that the Liberals will move a motion expressing a loss of confidence in the government between October 1 and October 7. If the two other opposition parties support it, there would likely be an election on November 9 or 16.
Additional reporting by David Ljunggren and Allan Dowd; editing by Peter Galloway