OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper challenged the main opposition Liberal Party on Wednesday to defeat his minority government in Parliament and let Canadians decide who was best suited to run the country.
Harper’s Conservatives won a fragile hold on power in January 2006 and have survived several confidence votes with support from the Liberals.
But the Liberals -- working with other opposition parties -- have used their combined majority in Parliament to water down or delay several important Conservative initiatives, much to Harper’s frustration.
Liberal leader Stephane Dion often muses publicly about bringing down the Conservatives, only to change his mind on the grounds that Canadians do not want an election.
“Mr. Dion is threatening to bring the government down -- again -- but we’ve heard that same song for nearly two years ... always, when the time comes to stand and be counted, he always backs down,” Harper said in a speech to Conservative Party members in the town of Levis, Quebec.
“Canadians deserve to have a Parliament that works ... so Mr. Dion must fish or cut bait. Either let the current Parliament work and let us get on with our mandate, or the voters themselves will decide,” he said.
Dion said earlier this month he detected more public enthusiasm for a vote in the near future but declined to say when or whether he would move to defeat Harper.
Opinion polls show the most likely result of an election now would be another minority Conservative government.
Dion, a bookish former academic who Harper regularly mocks as lacking leadership abilities, says if he is elected he will bring in a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Liberals say the measure would be offset by cutting other taxes. Harper says the idea is a disaster.
“We, as Conservatives, understand that the last thing Canada needs now is a new tax. Friends, I see Mr. Dion is challenging me to debate his carbon tax,” he said.
“If Mr. Dion wants a real debate ... all he has to do is follow through on his latest threat to force an election.”
Liberals, citing increased public interest in global warming, say Canadians will warm to the proposed tax when they realize it is designed both to cut taxes and help protect the environment.
They also say Harper cannot be trusted to manage a Canadian economy that is suffering increasingly from the economic slowdown in the United States -- Canada’s main export market.
Harper said the country’s economic fundamentals were sound but added, “The coming years, especially at the economic level, will require difficult decisions and aggressive actions.”
He did not give further details. Earlier in the day, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Canada -- which has recorded 11 successive budget surpluses -- was still on target to stay in the black this year.
Additional reporting by Allan Dowd; Editing by Peter Cooney