Canadian PM Suspends Parliament to Keep Power
Friday, December 05, 2008
OTTAWA — Canada's opposition parties vowed to oust Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government next month after Harper shut down Parliament to avoid almost certain defeat in an imminent confidence vote, but infighting among the one of the parties cast doubt on whether the coalition will hold.
Harper successfully asked the unelected representative of the head of state on Thursday for the power to close down Parliament until Jan. 26, hoping to buy enough time to develop a stimulus package that could prop up the economy.
The prime minister, whose Conservative party won re-election just two months ago, said a budget will be the first order of business when Parliament resumes.
Three opposition parties have united against Harper, charging he has no plan to steer Canada through the global financial crisis. The credit crisis and a global sell-off of commodities have slowed Canada's resource-rich economy, and the finance minister said last week he expects a recession.
The opposition parties, which control the majority of seats in Parliament, had scheduled a confidence vote for Monday in which Harper was virtually certain to lose — a defeat that would have forced his government from power or triggered another election.
Governor General Michaelle Jean, who represents Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, had the power to grant the unusual request to suspend parliament. Had she refused, Harper would have had two choices: step down or face the no-confidence vote.
Both Harper and Jean's spokeswoman declined to comment on the leaders' two-and-a-half hour meeting Thursday.
Liberal leader Stephane Dion said the opposition would continue to seek to topple Harper unless he makes a "monumental change" in dealing with the economy and other parties.
"For the first time in the history of Canada the prime minister is running away from the Parliament of Canada," said Dion, who could have been prime minister...."
Opposition New Democrat leader Jack Layton said Harper was "trying to lock the door of Parliament so that the elected people cannot speak. He's trying to save his job."
Analysts said a governor general has never been asked to suspend parliament to delay an ouster vote when it was clear the government didn't have the confidence of a majority of legislators.
...Robert Bothwell, director of the international relations program at the University of Toronto, said Harper damaged himself and the country. Bothwell criticized the move to suspend parliament.
"Canada looks terrible. It looks ridiculous. It makes nonsense of our constitution," he said, adding that the move set a dangerous precedent, paving the way for any prime minister facing defeat to follow suit.
Wiseman said Jean's decision strengthened the office of the prime minister at the expense of the popularly elected Parliament.
"It's not a good day for parliamentary democracy," Wiseman said.