OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper suspended Parliament on Thursday to avoid almost certain defeat in a confidence vote – an unprecedented move allowing him to retain power and confront Canada’s flagging economy.
The Conservative leader won the approval of the unelected representative of the head of state for the power to shut down Parliament until Jan. 26, hoping to buy enough time to develop a stimulus package.
“Today’s decision will give us an opportunity – I’m talking about all the parties – to focus on the economy and work together,” Harper said.
Harper, whose 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 failed to insulate Canada from 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 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.
Liberal leader Stephane Dion said the opposition would continue to seek Harper’s ouster 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,” Dion said.
The opposition was also outraged by a government proposal to scrap public subsidies for political parties, something the opposition groups rely on more than the Conservatives. Although that proposal was withdrawn, the opposition has continued to seek Harper’s ouster, saying he has lost the trust and confidence of parliament.
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.
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