September 1, 2008 / 9:54 PM / in 9 years

Canada set for third general election in four years

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada looked to be heading for its third election in four years on Monday after Prime Minister Stephen Harper failed to persuade the country’s main opposition leader to keep his minority Conservative government alive.

<p>Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with Canada's northern premiers during his Western Arctic tour in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, August 28, 2008. REUTERS/Todd Korol</p>

Harper and Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion blamed each other after an unproductive 20-minute meeting at Harper’s official residence, with both sides insisting the other wanted an election.

Harper aides have already pointed to October 14 as a likely date.

The breakdown of the talks was not a surprise.

Harper, whose Conservatives won power in January 2006, has made it clear over the last few weeks that he thinks an election is the only way to fix what he sees as a dysfunctional Parliament.

Chief Harper spokesman Kory Teneycke said Harper would “have to deliberate over the next few days and make a decision in due course” on an election call.

Opinion polls show the most likely result of an election now would be another minority Conservative government.

Teneycke said Dion had rejected a request from Harper to keep him in power until October 2009, which under fixed date legislation is the scheduled time of the next election.

“We are simply looking for broad areas of agreement ... there were no areas identified by the opposition leader where he had any common ground,” Teneycke told reporters.

“The opposition obviously want an election,” he said. “If they wanted to avoid an election, they would identify areas of common ground where the government could move forward. And without exception, none of them have been able to (do so).”

Dion’s main plank in the election campaign will be what he says is a revenue-neutral carbon tax designed to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

Harper says the tax would be a disaster at a time when the economy is suffering from the U.S. slowdown, and points to muttering inside the Liberal party about the wisdom of the measure.

The Conservatives regularly mock Dion, a former academic who surprisingly won a Liberal leadership race in December 2006. He is a native French-speaker and has an imperfect grasp of English -- the language spoken by most Canadians.

Last week, Harper held separate talks with the leaders of the two other opposition parties, who both emerged to say they were convinced he wanted an election.

Dion said he had pressed the prime minister to explain why he was breaking the spirit of the fixed date legislation.

“The reason he mentioned -- that Parliament is not working -- is only a charade, it’s a fake,” he said. “He’s doing it ... because he doesn’t want Canadians to have too much time to see how ill-prepared he is to face the economy.”

Asked if there was going to be an election, Dion replied: “Oh yes. We all know that ... he had decided that anyway.”

Harper says the fixed date legislation -- which he himself introduced -- was never supposed to apply to minority governments, a stance that has prompted widespread criticism.

Harper took over from former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, who won a minority government in a June 2004 election.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Ted Kerr

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