June 2, 2009 / 8:56 PM / in 8 years

Liberals say may stop backing government

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s main opposition Liberal Party said on Tuesday it was unhappy with the minority Conservative government’s record and would likely decide next week whether to continue backing it.

<p>Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 13, 2009. REUTERS/Blair Gable</p>

“Canadians don’t want an election. I don’t want an election, but we have a problem, a serious problem, about this government’s competence,” Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told reporters.

“We’ll make a serene and clear decision (on whether to support the government), probably in the middle of next week.”

The Liberals, who have until now kept the Conservatives in power, would need the support of both other opposition parties in the House of Commons to bring down the government, and that backing is by no means guaranteed.

Ignatieff said the government would submit its quarterly report card on its economic performance next week, and the Liberals would decide what to do after seeing that report.

Government officials have signaled that the report card would be delivered in early June but they refused on Tuesday to confirm it would be next week.

One flashpoint could come in a vote or series of votes on routine government financing measures. These votes, automatically confidence measures, will be held before the House adjourns on June 23.

The Liberals are also entitled before the end of the session to move a motion of non-confidence, which also could trigger an election if the other opposition parties back it.

Ignatieff cited an economic report by Toronto-Dominion Bank, which forecast federal budget deficits totaling C$167.1 billion ($154.7 billion) over five years, as demonstrating the government incompetence.

“The public finances of this country are not under control,” he said. The government has said this year’s deficit has swelled because of the big bailout for the auto sector and higher Employment Insurance payouts.

Ignatieff said there needed to be a uniform standard for qualifying for Employment Insurance benefits. He also said the government had not gotten economic stimulus out the door fast enough and had mishandled the production of medical isotopes.

The Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, won last October’s general election with a strengthened minority in the House, but still must rely on the support of at least one opposition party to remain in power.

An election now would be the fourth in a little more than five years.

Opinion polls show the Liberals running neck and neck with the Conservatives, with neither party assured of winning the next election. And whichever of the two main parties that wins would not likely take a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons.

The Liberals have, however, been cornered in recent years into being the opposition party that usually keeps the Conservatives in power.

Analysts say they may be trying to break that image by setting up a confidence situation that puts the onus on the other opposition parties to decide the fate of government.

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