OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper sounded a likely theme for a looming election on Wednesday, accusing opposition parties of threatening the economy by sending Canadians to the polls over the government's budget.
But the main opposition Liberals said they will try to bring the Conservative government down in a vote on Friday on a non-budget issue, signaling they will push recent ethics scandals as an early campaign theme.
"We have the responsibility to say clearly and unequivocally that this is a government that has lost the confidence of the House of Commons, it is a government that has lost the confidence of Canadians," Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told reporters.
The Conservative government's budget, presented on Tuesday, was immediately rejected by the opposition parties - setting the stage for a spring election.
"Our economy is not a political game. The global recovery is still fragile," Harper told reporters in Ottawa, accusing the opposition parties of wanting to trigger "a needless election".
If all three parties were to vote against the budget, the minority Conservative government would fall and an election campaign will start immediately.
Polls show Prime Minister Stephen Harper would easily retain power in an election, although he may not win enough support to win a majority.
The budget promised to shrink the federal deficit by a quarter this year and it included small, targeted measures for low-income seniors, the unemployed and businesses.
But the plan did not go far enough for the opposition New Democrats, the party that had been viewed as most likely to support the budget and keep Harper in power, and party leader Jack Layton joined the other two opposition parties in promising to vote against it.
An election campaign will pit Conservative assurances that only they can be trusted to manage an economy that is still emerging from recession against opposition charges of government sleaze and waste.
This week a Parliamentary committee slapped the government with the first contempt ruling in Canada's history, deciding that the government had hidden the full costs of a spending program. That issue could be debated in Parliament on Wednesday.
Additional reporting by Allan Dowd; editing by Janet Guttsman