Government close to facing contempt charge

Wed Mar 16, 2011 4:33pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government's uncertain hold on power looked less secure on Wednesday when opposition legislators said they were leaning toward slapping it with a formal contempt ruling.

That could pave the way for a nonconfidence motion next week, when the minority Conservative government is already looking at three separate parliamentary votes that could bring it down.

Although polls show the Conservatives would easily win reelection, opposition parties are confident they can focus on a number of ethical problems facing the government.

Last week, House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken issued a rare rebuke to Ottawa for refusing to say how much it would spend on new prison cells as part of a tough-on-crime agenda.

A parliamentary committee grilled two cabinet ministers about the case on Wednesday and opposition legislators, declaring the answers to be unsatisfactory, said they were closer to ruling the government was in formal contempt.

"They're deliberately not telling us what we need to know about the whole cost of their crime agenda ... we're incrementally, hour by hour, getting closer to a finding of contempt," said Pat Martin of the left-leaning New Democrats.

The committee, dominated by the opposition, has the power to deliver a formal contempt ruling -- effectively a motion of nonconfidence -- to the House of Commons next week. Legislators would then be asked to vote on the ruling.

The minority government, which needs the support of one opposition party to pass crucial legislation, will present its budget on March 22.   Continued...

<p>Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's shadow is cast on flags while holding a news conference in Surrey, British Columbia March 15, 2011. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>