*This should be amusing.*
Prime Minister plans television appearance at 7 p.m. ET; Liberal-NDP coalition given time to respond; Governor-General returns from Europe amid crisis
OTTAWA — A defiant Prime Minister Stephen Harper will take his pitch directly to the Canadian people tonight in a televised address as he fights for his political survival.
Mr. Harper will speak to Canadians at 7 p.m. ET Wednesday in an effort to justify his decision to stay in power rather than yield the prime minister’s office to Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion and his alliance with the NDP and separatist Bloc Québécois.
The Liberal-NDP coalition will be given airtime to respond.
Conservatives have been hinting strongly that Mr. Harper will ask Governor-General Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament until January.
If approved, the move would allow the Prime Minister to avoid a confidence vote scheduled for Monday, where the three opposition parties have vowed to defeat the minority Conservative government.
The last time a Prime Minister took to the airwaves, it was also to appeal for more time in the face of a looming Parliamentary defeat.
Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin spoke to the nation on a Thursday night in April, 2005, to address the fallout over his party’s sponsorship scandal.
In that address, Mr. Martin promised to hold an election within 10 months, to allow time for the publication of the final report from the public inquiry into the affair.
Mr. Harper, who was then leader of the Official Opposition, called the speech a “sad spectacle.”
“This government does not have the moral authority to govern between now and then and to deal with important issues such as the budget,” he said at the time.
Within days of Mr. Martin’s speech, the Liberals secured a short term arrangement to stay in power with the support of the NDP. Mr. Harper and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe continued to demand an election. NDP leader Jack Layton criticized Mr. Harper using very similar language to what Mr. Harper is using in the current situation.
“Mr. Harper will be getting into bed with the separatists,” Mr. Layton said in April, 2005.
On Tuesday, Mr. Harper spearheaded a campaign against the role of separatists in the alliance gunning to defeat him and raised the spectre of a national unity crisis as he laid the groundwork for a last-resort bid to suspend Parliament.
The Governor-General cut short a trip to Europe, and will likely soon face what appears to be Mr. Harper’s only remaining option: an unprecedented request to prorogue Parliament.
Fighting for his political life, Mr. Harper vowed that his Conservatives would use “every means that we have” to survive. He accused the Liberals and the NDP of a “betrayal of the best interests of our country” by signing a pact to govern in a coalition with Bloc Québécois support.
His accusations that the agreement reached on Monday would hand power to separatists prompted Mr. Dion, shaking with rage, to bellow: “Canadians are fed up with these lies.”
The Conservative strategy appeared to be shaping up Tuesday: a campaign to rally anti-coalition anger with attack ads, demonstrations and Internet campaigns; suspending Parliament till January, if Ms. Jean agrees; then returning with a stimulus budget.
The Conservatives hope that, given more time, a public backlash, especially over the pact with separatists, will persuade some Liberals to think twice. Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan called on senior Liberals to revolt.
In the Commons, Mr. Dion attacked Mr. Harper for considering a move to prorogue Parliament — ending the session and starting another one in the New Year — portraying him as taking illegitimate steps to dodge defeat in a confidence vote on the economic update the Tories introduced last week.
The Liberal Leader read aloud Mr. Harper’s own words from 2005, when he condemned prime minister Paul Martin’s move to delay confidence votes as “a violation of the fundamental constitutional principles of our democracy.”
Mr. Harper countered: “The highest principle of Canadian democracy is that if one wants to be prime minister, one gets one’s mandate from the Canadian people and not from Quebec separatists.
“This deal that the Leader of the Liberal Party has made with the separatists is a betrayal of the voters of this country, a betrayal of the best interests of our economy, a betrayal of the best interests of our country and we will fight it with every means that we have.”
Mr. Dion, meanwhile, was said to be meeting with his staff, including senior adviser Herb Metcalfe, to discuss preparations for taking office and filling cabinet positions, although both Mr. Dion and NDP Leader Jack Layton said they had not yet discussed cabinet positions.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May told reporters Tuesday she had discussed an appointment to the Senate with Mr. Dion. The Liberal Leader, speaking to reporters separately, seemed to leave open that possibility, but he also said he had made no commitments to anyone.
Both sides are fighting a no-holds-barred battle for public opinion.
The Tories unveiled radio ads Tuesday calling the coalition un-Canadian. The ads say Mr. Dion vowed in the election campaign not to form a coalition with the NDP, and now, without asking voters, “he’s working with the separatists to make that happen.”
“This is Canada. Power must be earned, not taken,” the ad concludes.
The Conservatives are considering having Mr. Harper address Canadians on TV — just as Mr. Martin did when he faced possible defeat by Mr. Harper’s Tories.
The Liberals and NDP, who have less money than the Conservatives, are responding with Internet and e-mail campaigns.
The crisis began last Thursday, after the government introduced an economic update that focused more on cutbacks to prevent a deficit than measures to stimulate the economy. The opposition parties declared that the Tories no longer had the support of Parliament.
Canada’s biggest union federation, the Canadian Labour Congress, launched a radio ad campaign promoting a dozen pro-coalition rallies across the country, arguing Mr. Harper has failed to make Parliament work or put Canadians’ economic worries first.
“He has no plan to protect jobs and help the economy. He has lost the support he needs to remain Prime Minister. Support a stronger vision for Canada. Support a new coalition government that will give our country leadership and hope,” the ad says.
Supporters of both sides are organizing campaigns to e-mail the Governor-General, and popular Calgary call-in-show host Dave Rutherford is pleading with his listeners to voice their displeasure to Ms. Jean over a possible “takeover” by a Liberal-NDP coalition.
If asked to prorogue Parliament, Ms. Jean would face an unprecedented constitutional dilemma: While a prime minister’s request to end a parliamentary session is usually granted automatically, the question now is whether she should allow it if the purpose is to avoid the defeat of a government on a confidence vote.
On Tuesday night, Ms. Jean told reporters in Prague that before she would agree to prorogue Parliament: “I have to see what the Prime Minister will say to me.
“I don’t know exactly about any of his intentions yet.”