OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, fighting to stay in power, promised in a rare televised address on Wednesday to use “every legal means” to block an opposition plan to replace his minority Conservative government.
Harper will visit Governor General Michaelle Jean on Thursday morning and is expected to ask her to suspend Parliament until his newly re-elected government delivers a budget on January 27.
The governor general represents Queen Elizabeth, Canada’s head of state, and has the final word on such constitutional matters.
The Liberals and New Democrats -- with the support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois -- are vowing to defeat Harper in a confidence vote on Monday and form a coalition government in what has become one of Canada’s worst political crises.
“At a time like this, a coalition with separatists cannot help Canada,” a somber Harper said in his televised address.
“Tonight I pledge to you that Canada’s government will use every legal means at our disposal to protect our democracy, to protect our economy and to protect Canada.”
It would mark the first time in Canadian federal history a prime minister had asked for the suspension of Parliament so soon after an election. The government had said it might need to do that to counter what it argues would be an undemocratic move by the opposition to take power.
The opposition parties, which are to the political left of the Conservatives, complain there was little in the government’s recent fiscal statement to combat the economic slowdown. But what galvanized them was a government attempt -- now abandoned -- to cut off direct financial subsidies to political parties.
Harper’s address was the first nationally televised appeal by a Canadian prime minister since 2005 when Paul Martin pleaded for extra time for his minority Liberal government.
“This is a pivotal moment in our history,” said Harper. “The opposition does not have the democratic right to impose a coalition with the separatists they promised voters would never happen.” The Bloc Quebecois wants to pull Quebec out of Canada.
Liberal leader Stephane Dion, who would become prime minister under the proposed deal, remained firm.
“If Mr. Harper wants to suspend Parliament, he must first face a vote of confidence,” he said in his own televised address in response to the prime minister.
Dion wrote the governor general earlier on Wednesday and urged her to reject any move to suspend Parliament. “You cannot accept this violation of our constitution and this affront to our parliamentary democracy,” he said.
While both sides in the political crisis were crafting constitutional arguments as to what Jean should do, they were also trying to appeal to public opinion, including a series of planned rallies and Harper’s televised address.
The Conservatives say the opposition attempt to replace the government would amount to a coup. Some party legislators sported buttons with a red line through the word “coup.”
Next Monday’s confidence vote will not take place if Jean, a former television journalist appointed by the Liberals, approves a request by Harper to suspend Parliament.
“Instead of facing that test, he’s like the student who’s standing outside the classroom pulling the fire alarm before he has to write the exam,” Liberal Scott Brison told reporters.
It has not been an easy sell for the coalition, with some Canadians asking how it could be that Dion, whose party’s performance in the October election was its worst since Canada was founded in 1867, would end up as prime minister.
Additional reporting by Louise Egan; Editing by Peter Cooney