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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's minority Conservative government is set for a showdown with the opposition Liberal Party on Thursday that could send the country back to the polls for the fourth time in just over five years.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office announced on Sunday the Conservative leader would on Monday present the third quarterly report card on what he is doing to pull Canada out of recession.
The substance of the report is not as important as the fact that under an agreement Parliament has reached, it will trigger an opportunity for the Liberals to try to topple the government on Thursday in a motion of nonconfidence.
The Liberals, the largest of three opposition parties, decided in early September to try to unseat the government at the first opportunity.
"We have lost confidence in this government. We will proceed with a motion," Liberal spokeswoman Jill Fairbrother said. "It's up to the Bloc or the NDP to support them or not."
She was referring to the other two opposition groups, the separatist Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party (NDP). If even one of these smaller parties sides with the government, an election will be averted.
Although both the Bloc and the NDP are on the left, they backed the Conservative government earlier this month in a September 18 vote on budget matters, which included formal approval of a popular home renovation tax credit.
The NDP, which along with the Bloc favors more government spending, has signaled it would support the Conservatives while they push through legislation expanding unemployment benefits. Officially, the NDP is keeping its options open.
"As far as I know, the Liberals have tabled nothing," NDP spokesman Karl Belanger said in regard to a confidence motion. "So we'll see."
With polls showing the Conservatives 7 to 8 percentage points ahead of the Liberals, the ruling party may want an election now, as it would be within striking distance of winning a majority of seats in Parliament.
Before the Liberals decided to withdraw their support from the government, the two parties had been tied in the polls.
The Liberals, who were in power for much of the 1990s and the first half of this decade, decided it was too politically awkward to keep the government in power. But their gamble so far has failed to sway much of the electorate.
Harper's government was reelected last October with a strengthened minority in Parliament. Elections had also been held in 2004 and 2006.
If the Liberal bid to force an election fails, there are expected to be other opportunities to defeat the government in November or December.
Canadian election campaigns traditionally do not overlap with the Christmas holidays, but there is no hard rule. The 2006 election campaign did span the holiday season.
Harper has argued it would be a mistake to have an election now as the country was beginning a fragile economic recovery.
Editing by Paul Simao