February 14, 2008 / 12:29 PM / 10 years ago

Liberals deny budget election plan

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The leader of Canada’s opposition Liberals denied a newspaper report on Thursday that said he planned to bring down the minority Conservative government over its budget later this month.

The budget will be presented on February 26 and must survive three confidence votes in Parliament before it can be adopted. The Conservatives, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, need support from at least one of the three opposition parties for the budget to pass.

Although the Liberals trail the Conservatives in the polls, insiders say leader Stephane Dion is keen to bring down the government after just over two years in power.

Dion, under pressure from some legislators for keeping the Conservatives in power last year in a series of confidence votes, dismissed a report in La Presse newspaper that said he had decided the time was right to try to defeat Harper.

Asked whether he had already taken a decision, Dion replied: “No, because I have not seen the budget yet.”

Other Liberals are urging more caution, on the grounds that the party is not ready to fight an election now. Voters are unenthusiastic about Dion, who became leader in December 2006, and officials say they are still looking for a campaign plane.

“We have to be ready (for an election) at any time and we will choose our moment,” Dion told reporters, adding that he would listen to the opinion of his colleagues before concluding what to do over the budget.

If the Liberals did bring down the Conservatives in early March, that would set the date for an election on April 14 -- the third federal vote in less than four years.

The Conservatives portray Dion as weak but polls suggest past support for the government is not harming the Liberal Party’s image with voters.

A Leger Marketing poll released on Thursday showed the Conservatives with 37 percent support and the Liberals at 32 percent. The Conservatives won the January 2006 election with 36 percent of the vote.

Leger said the Liberals were making advances in major provinces such as Quebec and Ontario, which between them account for more than half the 308 seats in the House of Commons.

“The Liberals are doing better than the national figures suggest,” said Leger’s Christian Bourque.

Under Canada’s first-past-the-post system, a party needs around 40 percent of the popular vote to stand a chance of winning a majority. The Conservatives have 126 seats.

There will be no shortage of opportunities to bring down the government in the next six weeks.

Next month, Parliament is due to hold a confidence vote on the future of Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, the Liberals and the Conservatives made compromises in a bid to settle deep divisions over what to do with the 2,500 troops there.

The government must also grant the three other parties a total of seven so-called opposition days in the House before March 14. A party can use its opposition day to introduce a motion of no-confidence.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway

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