December 2, 2008 / 10:14 PM / 10 years ago

Surprise, anger over Canada's political crisis

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canadians reacted with surprise, confusion and sometime vitriolic anger on Tuesday over the political chaos that has suddenly gripped the country’s normally staid federal government.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion (L) looks on as Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 1, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Less than two months after an election that was at times overshadowed by the U.S. presidential race, Canada faced the prospect of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper being ousted in favor of an opposition coalition.

The Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois say they have lost confidence in Harper’s minority government and have asked the governor general to let them form a new, coalition government, a move unseen in Canadian history.

“Is it legal? Where are we headed as a nation? I have lots of questions about our current political state of affairs,” said Bonny Jung, a Toronto-area resident who voted for the Liberals in the October 14 election.

“It’s almost like child’s play,” she said.

If the opposition parties vote down the Conservatives in Parliament and Governor General Michaelle Jean agrees to their plan, a coalition of Liberals and News Democrats would take over, with support from the Bloc Quebecois.

Jean, who represents Queen Elizabeth, Canada’s head of state, normally plays a figurehead role. However, her word is final when dealing with constitutional matters.

In Western Canada, the power-base of the Conservatives, Harper’s supporters expressed outrage that the Liberals and New Democrats would join forces with the Bloc Quebecois.

The Bloc, which advocates an independent Quebec, has long been a lightning rod for criticism in Western Canada, where many residents complain their needs have long been ignored by the federal government in Ottawa.

“It’s time to separate. The West must separate,” bellowed a talk-radio caller to CKNW radio in Vancouver. In northern Alberta, one family told Reuters they were making “Democratic Republic of Alberta” signs to take to rallies.

Dave Rutherford, of the Rutherford show, likely Alberta’s most influential call-in show on CHQR in Calgary, Alberta said the angry reaction has been unprecedented.

“We in the media use the word outrage a lot but this is real anger. People just cannot believe that the government has been hijacked. Cannot believe it,” Rutherford said.

The Conservatives were reportedly poised to launch an advertising campaign targeting the Bloc’s influence in the proposed coalition plan, which Harper has called an undemocratic attempt to seize power.

In Quebec, the province’s largest newspaper, Le Journal de Montreal, took a front page jab at the prospect of Liberal leader Stephane Dion could become prime minister after the Liberals were drubbed in the October 14 election.

“Thanks to the Bloc... he’s back; incredible but true,” read the French headline that was printed over a picture of Dion seated next to his old political foe. Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe.

The headline in the Globe and Mail newspaper simply announced that Canada had “One prime minister too many.”

Not all radio callers were upset with the prospect of the Conservatives’ ouster, with some accusing Harper of being the author of his own demise by focusing on partisan attacks since the election and ignoring Canada’s weakening economy.

“I think it is sort of divine justice,” a caller told CKNW.

Supporters of the coalition plan, including some the country’s largest unions, plan to hold rallies in cities across the country on Thursday, and accused the Conservatives of using “hysterical” rhetoric.

“We call on our members and citizens to remain calm and to be confident that the proposed coalition government is fully consistent with parliamentary democracy and represents the majority of Canadians who want these economic policies implemented immediately,” the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union said in a statement.

With reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, Scott Haggett in Calgary and Randall Palmer in Ottawa; editing by Rob Wilson

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