Harper gives Dion another election challenge
Published Wednesday, October 17, 2007 10:50PM EDT
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said Wednesday his party will not topple the government over the throne speech, but the prime minister has given him another possible election trigger.
After Dion told the House of Commons he would not bring down the government over the speech, Harper said he would treat an upcoming justice bill as a confidence vote, and would accept no amendments.
The Conservatives' Tackling Violent Crime Act will include parts of similar legislation that failed to pass in the last Parliamentary session.
Earlier, Dion said he will introduce an amendment to the speech that criticizes the government for abandoning Canada's Kyoto commitments and asks for combat operations in Afghanistan to end by February 2009.
But the amendment is expected to fail because the New Democrats, who want an immediate troop withdrawal, will be unable to support it. The Liberals would then abstain from the final vote, keeping the government alive.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed Dion's criticism as empty posturing.
"As I listened to the leader of the Opposition, he reminded me a little bit of a professor who goes through your term paper and marks all over it everything he disagrees with, but then passes you anyway," he said.
In his address to the House of Commons, Dion said the Conservative government's throne speech was so full of holes that "it warrants little faith."
But he said the speech came at a time when Canadians don't want another election.
"The Throne Speech we heard yesterday, with all of its weaknesses, has to be assessed in light of the fact that Canadians don't want another election right now. They want Parliament to do its job," Dion said.
"We are determined to make parliament work, in keeping with Canadians' wishes."
The party's caucus held a nearly two-and-a-half hour meeting Wednesday morning.
While there was a small group of Liberal "hawks" who pushed for an election, most MPs in the meeting told Dion that now is not the time to send Canadians to the polls, CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife said.
The crucial vote that could decide whether a federal election could be triggered will take place next Wednesday.
The New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois have both rejected the document.
As a confidence item, if the opposition parties reject the throne speech, the government will fall and an election will be triggered.
The main areas of contention for Dion's party appear to be:
- The Kyoto accord;
- The Liberals' demand for an end to Canada's combat role in Afghanistan by February 2009; and,
- The Tories' anti-crime legislation, which the Liberals opposed in Parliament's last session.
Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale told Canada AM that Canadians don't want an election.
As the official opposition, the Liberals are considering what's best for Canada in the long term while the opposition parties are playing "silly games," Goodale said.
"We're taking that responsibility seriously. The others are engaging in ultimatums, sabre rattling. We're trying to look at the subject matter here, what is good for Canada in the long term and how should we behave as a responsible opposition to achieve that."
The speech laid out intentions to reduce greenhouse gases and battle climate change, but said Canada cannot meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.
That treaty calls for Canada to reduce its GHG emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. Canada's levels in 2005 were about 25 per cent above 1990 levels.
The speech was delivered by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean Tuesday night. It promised a one-percentage-point cut in the GST, a crackdown on violent crime and laid out a plan for Canada to remain in Afghanistan until at least 2011.
In the House of Commons' first question period, NDP Leader Jack Layton assailed the Conservatives for "abandoning fairness for ordinary Canadians."
Harper said the throne speech addressed issues like poverty and homelessness.
"If the leader of the NDP had not decided several weeks before the throne speech was read that he would oppose it, he would have noticed those things in the throne speech," he said.
Earlier, Layton told Canada AM the speech is unacceptable for his party, which will not budge on its demands that Canada meet its Kyoto pledges and set a firm date for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He said he believes the Conservatives are taking Canada in the wrong direction.
Harper's minority government has shown no flexibility on key issues, such as Afghanistan and battling climate change, in the days leading up to the speech, Layton said.
"We didn't see action on those issues in the throne speech, and we had 2.5 million people vote for us and say we want you to stand up to the government because we believe the direction they are taking is wrong, and that's what we plan to do," he said.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe asked in question period about the government's plan to limit federal spending power.
He compared the current plan to one introduced by former Liberal governments.
"No previous government tabled legislation to accomplish these historic demands from Quebec for the past four decades," Harper said. "I hope the Bloc will vote for the throne speech and support these measures, because we don't need the Bloc to vote against Quebec interests here."
Duceppe has put forward five non-negotiable demands for BQ support of the throne speech. One is that Canada meet its Kyoto commitments.
He told CTV's Canada AM the speech didn't offer up enough for his party to support, citing the proposal to extend the Afghanistan mission and abandon Kyoto as major points of contention.
He said it's up to the Liberals to decide the Conservative government's fate.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the throne speech outlines the government's intention to offer up tax cuts to all Canadians.
He said most of the tax cuts promised in the Conservatives' election platform have been met and the government is now expanding its tax reforms.
"A lot has been done and now we're in a position to look at broad tax cuts, broad tax relief for Canadians," he told Canada AM.
He later told reporters that no new tax cuts would be announced during the government's fall economic update.
"It's possible to take some tax measures in the fall update, but I'm not anticipating that right now because we're not far from the budget, fairly early in the new year," he said following the Conservatives' caucus meeting.
Flaherty defended the government's position on Afghanistan, saying the speech indicates a change in Canadian troops' role in Afghanistan after 2009, moving to a role of training and mentoring, rather than front-line combat.
But he said the opposition parties must decide whether they want to "force an election."
"We can only govern if the opposition permits us to govern. It will be up to the opposition parties to decide whether we're permitted to govern or whether they want to force an election on the Canadian people," he told Canada AM.
The throne speech outlined five new priorities:
- Strengthening Canada's sovereignty in the world;
- Forging a stronger federation;
- Providing economic leadership;
- Tackling crime; and,
- Improving the environment.