OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian opposition parties on Sunday pressed ahead with talks on how to defeat and replace the newly re-elected minority Conservative government, which is in trouble after a bungled bid to strengthen its power.
The three opposition movements now say the government must be brought down because Ottawa’s updated fiscal projections, released last week, failed to include stimulus measures to help the economy deal with the global crisis.
They brushed off an announcement from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on Sunday that Ottawa would spend money to stimulate the economy, and that the next budget proposal would be introduced earlier than usual, on January 27.
The fiscal projections had contained a bold plan to end public financing of political parties. The move would have crippled the opposition and made it difficult for them to fight the next election.
The Conservatives, who have a sophisticated fund-raising machine, rely much less on public financing than the others.
Under growing political and media pressure, the government withdrew the financing proposal on Saturday. Flaherty said it now plans to freeze public financing of political parties.
But the Liberals and New Democrats say they no longer trust the Conservatives and are in talks to form a coalition that would work with the Bloc.
“Those talks have been going extremely well ... . We’re going to give Canadians the government they deserve, a government that respects and reflects their values,” New Democrat legislator Thomas Mulcair told reporters on Sunday evening.
“I didn’t hear anything in Mr. Flaherty’s statement that backs us off this ledge,” senior Liberal Party legislator Michael Ignatieff told CTV television.
Parliament is due to vote on a no-confidence motion on December 8. If the Conservatives lose, the opposition parties would get a chance to govern Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been in office since February 2006.
“They’re just desperate to hang on to power and that’s why they’re making all these promises to change course but they don’t have any credibility. That is the problem,” said Liberal finance spokesman John McCallum.
The situation, which has hurt the Canadian dollar, grew murkier on Sunday when the government released the transcript of a conference call between New Democrat lawmakers.
It said the document shows the party had planned coalition talks long before the fiscal projections were released. Opposition officials said the call had referred to regular talks between the three parties.
The drama marks a sharp reversal of fortunes for Harper, who came within a few seats of winning a majority in the October 14 election.
For all the talk of replacing Harper, opposition legislators must overcome big challenges before taking power.
The Liberals and the New Democrats only control 114 of 308 seats in Parliament. Working with the Bloc Quebecois is sensitive, since the party aims to break up Canada by gaining independence for the French-speaking province of Quebec.
Major policy differences exist between the Liberals and the New Democrats. For example, the New Democrats want Canada’s troops out of Afghanistan now while the Liberals say they can stay until 2011.
The Liberals are also in the middle of a leadership race to replace Stephane Dion, who led the party to one of its worst performances in the October election.
The party is due to hold a leadership convention next May but some legislators say Dion needs to leave now.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Xavier Briand