Liberals, NDP close in on coalition
Government cedes ground, announces budget
Canwest News Service
Sunday, November 30, 2008
CREDIT: National Post
OTTAWA - The nation's game of political brinksmanship remained at a full boil late Sunday evening, amid reports that the Liberals and New Democrats have either reached or are very close to reaching a tentative coalition to topple Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government soon.
The National Post reported that Michael Ignatieff is to become prime minister in a Liberal-led coalition if the opposition parties do bring down the Conservatives in a no-confidence vote next week. It went on to say that outgoing Liberal Leader Stephane Dion would step aside and that leadership Bob Rae would receive a senior cabinet post. The Post reports that the plan will be presented to the Liberal caucus Monday afternoon.
But a spokesman for Bob Rae categorically denied Sunday night that Rae has agreed to step aside to make room for Ignatieff and said that Dion was not even at the meeting where the purported deal was said to have been hatched.
Also Sunday night, there were media reports which said that the Liberals and NDP had agreed on sharing cabinet seats, although there were conflicting reports on the number of portfolios each party would get.
Some reports said Dion and NDP Leader Jack Layton had agreed to a coalition of two-and-a-half years with the NDP getting 25 per cent of cabinet seats. The report did not say how large the cabinet would be or which portfolios the NDP would get.
Nor was it clear what role the separatist Bloc Quebecois would play in all of this.
The evening's events followed a day of high political intrigue and manoeuvre.
Earlier Sunday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty called for political and economic stability, setting an early budget date of Jan. 27. He also pledged to stimulate the slowing economy and announced a partial retreat from measures that have triggered the whole opposition effort to form a coalition and oust the Conservatives.
Flaherty pledged long-term economic stimulus, hinted at help for the auto sector and retreated on two key issues by freezing instead of abolishing public funds for political parties and withdrawing a plan to ban public servants from striking.
Flaherty also warned that the business and finance community is telling him "the stability of the government and the economy is paramount."
Meanwhile, Harper officials alleged the coalition is the fruit of a secret deal between the NDP and the Bloc that predates the government's fiscal update last Thursday. The update triggered coalition talks among the opposition parties due to the Conservative proposal to freeze public funds.
That was flatly denied by deputy NDP leader Tom Mulcair, a Montreal MP.
Mulcair reacted by accusing the government of "illegally" obtaining and distributing a tape and transcript of Layton's conversations with his MPs. He said the NDP and the Bloc had consulted earlier on such common policy concerns as employment insurance but had not talked about a coalition "for one minute" before Thursday.
Liberal economic critic Scott Brison, a Nova Scotia MP, accused Harper of "Nixonian tactics," referring to the late disgraced U.S. president Richard Nixon.
Harper's spokesman Kory Teneycke said the PMO was inadvertently given the co-ordinates to the teleconference call between Layton and his caucus. Teneycke said he would "leave it to others" to decide if it were ethical to tape the conversation and to distribute it.
Both the Conservative and Liberal parties used the battle over who's going to run the country to try to drum up party donations. The Conservatives urged donations "to wage the fight of its life" in an election campaign if Harper is defeated by "Liberals, socialists and separatists." The Liberal party called for donations to help fight Conservative attack ads that may start this week.
"Now, more than ever, Canadians need Parliament to put their interests first," said a letter by Douglas Ferguson, Liberal party president. "That is why the Liberal Party has put partisan politics aside and is working with other parties to form an alternative government to protect Canadian jobs and introduce a sound economic plan to kick-start the economy."
"The stability of the government and the economy is paramount," Flaherty told reporters in a teleconference call earlier. He said the business and financial community have told him "it would be inadvisable to have a change of government or any instability or another election."
Opposition parties, angered by the threat to remove millions in political subsidies and urging immediate economic stimulus, have been threatening to unite and defeat the government since Thursday.
Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale issued a written statement accusing the Conservatives of governing on the fly. "Yesterday, they reversed their position on political financing, and today they're announcing they'll move up the budget date," he said. "How can Canadians trust this government to get our economy back on track when it's all over the map?"
Flaherty said Jan. 27, the day after the House of Commons returns from a Christmas break which begins Dec. 12, is the earliest he can deliver a budget. The budget is usually announced in mid to late February.
The government retreated partway on a proposal to abolish public funding for political parties, which angered all three opposition parties.
Flaherty said the government now proposes to freeze the annual subsidy at $1.95 per vote and will "campaign" to abolish it later. The subsidy is indexed to inflation.
Flaherty accused the opposition MPs both of failing to provide him with their ideas to stimulate the economy and of "writing stimulus ideas on the back of an envelope, spending billions of dollars, putting Canada into a permanent deficit, which is what they're proposing to do and what we're proposing to avoid."
- with files from the National Post
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