May 1, 2009 / 12:34 AM / in 9 years

Harper denies talk of pact with separatists

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed reports on Friday that he was contemplating a deal with the separatist Bloc Quebecois to keep his minority Conservative government in power.

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at a news conference in Toronto, April 30, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>

Speculation is mounting that the main opposition Liberals, who are riding high in the polls, could try to bring down the government later this year.

The Conservatives need the support of at least one opposition party to survive a confidence vote. Some newspapers and commentators are now raising the prospect of a deal with the Bloc, which wants independence for the province of Quebec.

“That is absolutely untrue ... The Bloc Quebecois stands for the break-up of this country. We will not govern this country in a pact or arrangement with the Bloc Quebecois,” Harper said in the western province of Saskatchewan.

“I don’t know where that (idea) is coming from but there is no contemplation of that, let alone the possibility of that,” he told a televised news conference.

Talk of a possible deal grew this week after Conservative legislators unexpectedly backed a Parliamentary motion by the Bloc on taxes in Quebec. The predominantly French-speaking province accounts for 75 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons.

Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe deflected talk of a deal on Thursday, saying instead that he wanted support for a proposed stimulus bill. The Bloc kept the Conservatives in power on several crucial votes in 2006 and 2007.

Even the speculation of an arrangement with the Bloc reflects how far Harper’s fortunes have fallen since the Conservatives won a strengthened minority in last October’s election, handing the Liberals a crushing defeat.

A month later he tried to cut off public funding for political parties, which would have hit opposition groupings particularly hard. The Liberals, Bloc and left-leaning New Democrats united in a bid to defeat Harper, who only escaped by having Parliament suspended.

He also lashed out at what he called the separatist menace to Canada, a tactic that cost him support in Quebec.

The Liberals then ditched leader Stephane Dion and chose the more telegenic Michael Ignatieff, who has done so well that recent polls put his party ahead of the Conservatives nationally.

This week, a poll taken in Quebec showed the Liberals well ahead of the Bloc, which field candidates only in Quebec. The party holds 49 of the province’s 75 seats and that strength has been a major factor in preventing any national party from forming a majority government in Canada since June 2004.

The survey also fueled talk that the Bloc would rather do a deal with Harper than lose seats in an election this year.

Ignatieff told supporters on Thursday he was in no rush to force an election and pointed out the Liberal Party still needed plenty of rebuilding, politically and financially.

Figures released by Canada’s electoral officer on Friday showed that in the first quarter of 2009 the Liberals raised C$1.9 million ($1.6 million), much less than the C$4.4 million raised by the Conservatives.

($1=$1.18 Canadian)

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson

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