September 3, 2009 / 4:50 PM / in 8 years

Canada opposition to PM -- cooperate or lose power

<p>New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton responds to questions about the possibility of federal fall election during a news conference at the Delta Barrington hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia, September 3, 2009. REUTERS/Paul Darrow</p>

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Canadian opposition leader on Thursday bluntly told Prime Minister Stephen Harper to work with other parties in Parliament if he wanted the minority Conservative government to stay in power.

The Conservatives are expected to face a non-confidence vote in the next few weeks and need the backing of at least one of the three other parties in Parliament to keep governing.

If they lose the vote there would be a new election, probably in November.

The left-leaning New Democrats, among the most consistent critics of Harper, demanded more generous jobless benefits and an end to what they called gouging by credit card companies as the price for backing the Prime Minister.

“Mr. Harper can still avoid elections, but to do that he has to work with the other parties and he has to make compromises. It’s your choice, Mr. Harper,” New Democrat leader Jack Layton told a news conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Harper, an aloof character who opponents decry as too partisan, has only ever led minority governments since taking power in early 2006. This means he has had to rely on other parties to pass his budgets and other major legislation.

He said on Thursday he would not make back-room deals to survive, but was ready to listen to useful ideas on the economy that other parties might present.

The Liberal Party, the biggest opposition party, said on Tuesday it would try to bring down Conservatives in Parliament and force an election as soon as possible on the grounds that the Ottawa is mishandling the economy.

Most political observers have condemned the Liberals for threatening an election so soon after the October 2008 vote, a contest where the party did very badly.

“There is neither a pressing public desire nor a compelling need for an election... A fall campaign would distract the government from continuing to develop economic policies at a time when there are signs of only a fragile recovery,” the influential Globe and Mail newspaper said in an editorial.

An Ekos poll released on Thursday showed the Conservatives tied with the Liberals in public support, and neither party has a clear chance of victory.

Yet it remains unclear if an election can be avoided. There is little love lost between Harper and Layton, and cooperating with the third opposition party -- the separatist Bloc Quebecois -- is politically very risky for the Conservatives.

Neither the NDP nor the Bloc has said for sure how they will vote in a non-confidence motion.

Harper said Canada did not need another election now, especially when Parliament’s focus should be on the economy.

“I don’t think it serves the purpose of the country to have an election every single year just because a party can’t accept the result of the previous election. That’s not responsible,” he told a news conference at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Reporting by David Ljunggren

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