Talks to solve political crisis going well

Thu Apr 29, 2010 2:42pm EDT
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - An initial round of talks on Thursday to end a power struggle between the minority Conservative government and opposition legislators went well, participants said.

The two sides have until May 11, a deadline set by the House of Commons speaker, to work out their differences or face a vote in the House that could trigger an election.

"It was a productive first meeting. We hope to meet again as early as possible next week," said Dimitri Soudas, chief spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The House of Commons insists the government hand over uncensored files about the transfer of prisoners taken by Canadian troops in Afghanistan to local authorities. Some reports have said the prisoners were mistreated by the Afghans.

The government says it will not hand over the files, citing national security.

House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken ruled in favor of legislators on Tuesday, saying they have the right to ask for whatever documents they want, while making it clear that secret material should not necessarily be made public.

Milliken gave both sides two weeks to come up with an acceptable solution.

"(We) went to the first meeting with a spirit of openness in order to reach a compromise while respecting the government's legal obligations," Soudas said in a statement.

Although Harper generally takes a hard line with his opponents, polls show neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals, the biggest opposition party, stand a chance of winning an election now.

"I come away from the discussion quite encouraged that members of Parliament will be able to respond constructively to the very clear ruling from the Speaker," Liberal legislator Ralph Goodale told reporters after the meeting.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway)