OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s three opposition parties, which can only bring down the minority Conservative government if they all vote together, could not agree on Wednesday how to handle Ottawa’s admission it would run a record budget deficit this year.
The Liberals, the official opposition party, said the news that the deficit would reach more than C$50 billion ($45 billion) made it increasingly difficult to work with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose January budget they backed.
But the left-leaning New Democrats showed no enthusiasm for cooperating in a bid to defeat Harper while the separatist Bloc Quebecois said it wanted more details of what the Liberals had in mind.
The Liberals badly lost an election last October but have steadily risen in public support as the economic crisis bites. A string of recent polls has put them narrowly in the lead, increasing the enthusiasm of some legislators for what would mark the country’s fourth election in little over five years.
“It’s getting very difficult to work with the government,” Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told reporters after insisting in Parliament that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty resign on the grounds he had no credibility.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper brushed off the demand, saying the government would continue to spend money to shield Canadians from the effects of the recession.
Harper may well be saved by bad blood between the opposition parties, which agreed early last December to form a coalition government. But when Ignatieff took over as Liberal leader shortly afterward he made clear he was not interested in the idea, infuriating the New Democrats.
Thomas Mulcair, a leading New Democrat legislator, said he had no interest in forcing the resignation of Flaherty and mocked the Liberals, pointing out they had backed the government in 71 confidence votes since Harper won power in January 2006.
“Mr Ignatieff shouldn’t have supported the government to begin with. ... He’s in a terrible position today,” he told reporters.
“Mr Flaherty will wear the dunce’s cap all his life for running up the biggest deficit in Canadian history. It would suit Mr Harper very well to hide behind Flaherty,” he said.
Polls suggest that if an election were held now, the New Democrats would lose seats, most likely to the Liberals.
As well as the budget deficit, Ignatieff also cited what he said was the need to do more on employment insurance and to speed up the government’s stimulus plan.
(Additional reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Frank McGurty)