August 27, 2008 / 4:22 PM / in 9 years

More signs point to early election

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave fresh signs on Wednesday of triggering a general election soon.

<p>Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves to a baby 200 km (124 miles) north of the Arctic Circle in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, August 26, 2008. REUTERS/Todd Korol</p>

Governor General Michaelle Jean, who would formally be responsible for any election call, was asked to cancel her trip to China to represent Canada on September 6 at the Paralympic Games in Beijing.

“It is recommended that it is prudent for the governor-general to be in the country given the current political climate,” Harper’s press secretary, Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, said.

If Harper were to seek the dissolution of Parliament and a new election, he would visit the governor general at her residence at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

Jean represents Canada’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth, and acts on the advice of the prime minister.

As well, Harper plans to meet with opposition New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton on Saturday to discuss whether there is any common ground to continue with the current session of Parliament.

The Conservative government was elected in January 2006 with a minority of seats in Parliament, and needs the support of at least one of the three opposition parties to pass legislation and remain in power.

Harper has been complaining that legislation is increasingly being blocked and has asked for meetings with the opposition to see if there is any prospect for consensus or whether it is better to seek a fresh electoral mandate.

Layton is on the left of the political spectrum and has been calling for some time for the defeat of the right-leaning Conservative government, so his meeting with Harper may be mostly formality.

“I don’t see negotiations happening,” Layton spokesman Karl Belanger said.

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe has offered to meet on September 5, 6 or 7, and the head of the biggest opposition party, Liberal leader Stephane Dion, has suggested September 9.

“We have proposed September 9. Nothing has changed,” Dion spokesman Mark Dunn said.

Dion, who has accused Harper of manufacturing excuses to hold an election, said on Tuesday that he did not want to discuss such important matters over the phone.

Harper suggested on Tuesday that he might call the election late next week, which would cancel by-elections that have been set for September 8 to fill three vacant seats in the House of Commons. The general election would be on October 14.

It was not clear if he would do so without talking to Dion and Duceppe.

The opposition parties question the rush is to have Parliament dissolved. They suggest Harper is trying to avoid embarrassing testimony before House committees looking into the Conservatives’ election spending practices, as well as questioning in the House after its scheduled return from the summer recess on September 15.

Harper says with current economic uncertainty it is important to have a government that can act decisively.

Opinion polls show the Conservatives and Liberals in a virtual dead heat, suggesting another minority government would be the likely outcome of a fall election.

Editing by Rob Wilson

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