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Fate of Canada PM Trudeau at stake amid standoff with opposition

OTTAWA, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government could be toppled on Wednesday by opposition parties demanding an ethics probe into whether Ottawa handed contracts to friends as it battled the coronavirus pandemic.

Legislators will hold a confidence vote in the minority Liberal administration at around 3:15 p.m. ET (1915 GMT), and Trudeau’s survival is not guaranteed.

Trudeau only won a minority of seats in the House of Commons in an October 2019 election and will need the support of the minority New Democrats to survive. The two parties are in talks on a possible deal to allow the Liberals to stay in power.

“No developments. Trudeau really wants this election,” said George Soule, a spokesman for the New Democrats, early on Wednesday. Party leader Jagmeet Singh, who said on Tuesday he did not want an election, is due to speak to reporters at 1 p.m. ET.

More than 70% of Canadians say they do not want a snap election during the pandemic, according an EKOS Research poll.

The last general election was held exactly one year ago. In polls, Canadians have given Trudeau’s Liberals mostly good marks for handling COVID-19, but the country has entered a second wave and the economic outlook is clouded.

Liberals would win 35% public support and the Conservatives 31% if a vote were held today, a result which could produce another minority Liberal government, said Frank Graves, president of polling company EKOS Research.

“Canadians have too many other things on their mind and too many things they think the government should be focusing on,” Graves said by phone.

Wednesday’s vote could be close. The Liberals have 154 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons compared to the 153 seats held by the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois, who have both said they will oppose Trudeau.

The New Democrats say they will not vote against the Liberals. If they side with the government, Trudeau is safe but if they abstain, his fate could be determined by the Greens - who have three seats - and two independent legislators.

“The Conservatives must know that they cannot paralyze a government that is totally concentrated on people’s wellbeing,” Trudeau told French-language public broadcaster Radio-Canada on Wednesday, insisting he did not want an election.

The Conservatives, who allege some of the more than C$200 billion ($152.6 billion) handed out in aid programs has been misspent, want to create a special committee to examine what they call the government’s ethical problems.

This would look at the government’s choice of a charity that had paid his mother and brother for speaking engagements to manage a C$900 million student grant program. Trudeau has already apologized for taking part in a cabinet decision to use a charity, which pulled out of the program. ($1=1.3107 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by David Gregorio)

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