May 11, 2010 / 3:58 PM / 7 years ago

Canada legislators win more time to end standoff

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses a news conference after an EU-Canada summit at the European Council in Brussels May 5, 2010.Francois Lenoir</p>

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian government ministers and opposition legislators won more time on Tuesday to try to end a parliamentary power struggle that could trigger an early election.

House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, in a ruling two weeks ago, had given the two sides until Tuesday to sort out their differences over whether Parliament could see documents relating to the treatment of Afghan prisoners captured by Canadian troops.

Milliken, acting on a request by both sides, agreed on Tuesday to let the talks run until Friday. A spokeswoman for the speaker said the new deadline would be 1:30 p.m. ET that day.

The opposition parties have demanded to see uncensored files on the detainees, but the minority Conservative government has refused, citing national security issues.

Both sides said they were in good spirits after Tuesday's talks but offered few details.

"Talks are progressing and I'm optimistic as usual," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told reporters.

The crisis started when the House of Commons, which is controlled by opposition legislators, was denied unrestricted access to the detainee files.

The opposition wants to see the documents because it suspects the government knew prisoners handed over by Canadian troops to Afghan authorities were likely to be abused.

Milliken said two weeks ago that if a deal could not be reached between the House and the Conservatives, he would formally present a motion declaring the government to be in contempt of Parliament. If the House voted in favor, the most likely result would be a quick election.

Polls show neither the Conservatives nor the main opposition Liberal Party would stand much chance of winning enough seats to create even a stable minority government if an election were held now.

Ralph Goodale, lead negotiator for the Liberals, said both sides recognized they needed more time to settle a complex matter that dealt with "extremely sensitive" issues.

"What is encouraging is that all parties are of the same mind on this point, which indicates -- I think -- that everybody is making an honest effort to try to come a conclusion on a reasonable basis," he said.

Fellow Liberal negotiator Dominic LeBlanc said Tuesday's talks had been much more substantial than earlier rounds.

Possible solutions include setting up a special House of Commons committee to examine the documents in secret or to ask a neutral party to look at the material and see how much of it could be made public.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway

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