August 31, 2009 / 10:07 PM / in 8 years

Liberals torn on forcing early election

SUDBURY, Ontario (Reuters) - Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said on Monday he would not support a government that was not doing its work but he sidestepped whether he would topple the minority government.

<p>Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff speaks during a news conference on the first day of the Liberal caucus summer retreat in Sudbury, Ontario, August 31, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

“I can’t be an accomplice to a government that isn’t doing its work,” Ignatieff told reporters as members of his caucus arrived for meeting that will focus on whether to force an early election.

Yet he would not say whether that means the country is likely to head into its fourth election in 5-1/2 years.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper led his Conservative Party to reelection last October, with more seats before but still a minority, requiring the support of at least one of the three opposition parties.

Ignatieff faces the delicate question of whether to risk bringing the government down during fragile economic times and risk suffering the third straight Liberal loss -- or to face ridicule for continuing to keep the government alive.

“We’re going to have a good discussion and we’ll make a decision when it suits us,” said Ignatieff, who took over as party leader from Stephane Dion after an abysmal Liberal performance in October.

Ignatieff said the Liberals had kept the government in power for the past 10 months because the Liberals had put the country’s interests before the party’s interests.

“Welcome to the wonderful world of opposition!” he said when a reporter asked him if he felt damned if he brought the government down and damned if he kept it in power.

The Conservatives triggered the last election but have been arguing strongly that it would be a mistake to have another one now.

“The last thing, the very last thing this country needs is an unnecessary election, less than a year (after) we had the last one,” Transport Minister John Baird said during a news conference in Ottawa.

He said it was a measure of sanity that Liberal Senator David Smith, the party’s campaign co-chairman, had been questioning the need for an election.

Liberal hawks say the government has not moved infrastructure money fast enough, has racked up a large budget deficit without an adequate plan for eliminating it, has mismanaged health issues and has not come adequately to the defense of Canadians in trouble abroad.

Party doves point to the Liberals’ tepid standing in the polls, which mostly put their support at about even with the Conservatives, and to the lack of a coherent campaign narrative to excite the electorate.

The Liberals will meet in Sudbury through Wednesday.

Reporting by Randall Palmer, Editing by Frank McGurty

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