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Tories threaten to topple Liberals Tuesday: report

Canadian Press and Globe and Mail Update

Ottawa — The Conservative Party wants to introduce a non-confidence motion in Parliament on Tuesday, according a new report.

Tory Leader Stephen Harper will present the idea to Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe and the NDP's Jack Layton at a meeting in Ottawa on Sunday, CTV News reports.

If all three parties support the motion and it passes, the Liberal minority government will be defeated, meaning Canadians will go to the polls before Christmas.

Tories are aiming to have the election on Dec.21, according to the report.

This date, however, would be a consitutional impossibility. There must be a 36-day gap between the call for election and voting day. That would bring Canadians to the poll on December 27th.

Prime Minister Paul Martin's arch-rivals planned to set aside their differences Sunday to plot strategy against the minority Liberal government.

The opposition leaders were to meet to discuss the next moves in their bid to disrupt, if not topple, the government.

"We're in favour of bringing the government down," a Conservative source said on condition of anonymity. "But we need a coalition."

The uneasy entente between the opposition parties took shape in recent days after Mr. Layton withdrew his support for the Liberals over his push to curb privatization of medicare.

It's a union fraught with distrust — especially about whether Mr. Layton really wants to force an early election, sources say.

Opposition leaders will be talking about how best to walk an electoral tightrope of their own weaving: all three say the sponsorship scandal has stripped the Liberals of the moral authority to govern, yet none wants to lead the charge to the polls.

The alternative? A range of compromise proposals that Mr. Martin has flatly dismissed as "political games."

"I'm not going to engage in that," the prime minister said Thursday. He then restated his promise to call an election within 30 days of Justice John Gomery's final sponsorship report expected Feb. 1.

Aside from toppling the government Tuesday, the opposition parties could unite to bring down the government in a confidence vote as early as Dec. 8, leading to an election campaign over the Christmas season.

But both Mr. Harper and Mr. Layton say they don't want to jeopardize new budget measures that are important to their respective supporters.

Instead, Mr. Layton put forward a plan to introduce a motion Nov. 24 that would essentially ask the Liberals to surrender their mandate in January.

"His position is not tenable," a Conservative source said Saturday.

Mr. Harper, meanwhile, has suggested using a Conservative opposition day in the Commons expected Tuesday for one of two possible motions.

One would call for the Commons to reconvene Jan. 4 for an opposition-controlled agenda — likely including a vote of non-confidence that would trigger an election.

The second involves allowing the opposition to table motions in the Commons every seven days. The Liberals now control so-called opposition days.

As a potentially disruptive backdrop, the Conservatives have also threatened to block a major fiscal update to be delivered Monday by Finance Minister Ralph Goodale.

They're concerned the annual document will this year resemble a kind of Liberal election platform, replete with promises of program spending and tax cuts.

If it does, Tory finance critic Monte Solberg has urged fellow opposition MPs to stop Mr. Goodale from using the all-party Commons finance committee as a venue for delivering the update.

Mr. Goodale could still offer the update in the Commons or through a press conference. He wrote to Solberg over the weekend to stress the importance of allowing the process to go ahead as planned.

For David Docherty, such shenanigans are sad proof that Parliament has gone off the rails.

"I think we've lost the conditions of a functioning minority government," said the political scientist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

Opposition efforts to declare non-confidence in the Liberals but delay their downfall until January are especially bizarre, he said.

And all for the sake of pushing the election timetable ahead by a couple of months.

It might be funny if the stakes weren't so high — especially for Mr. Harper and Mr. Martin, Mr. Docherty said.

"This will be a critical election because it may be their last."

Neither leader can afford a repeat of the minority Liberal result in 2004, Mr. Docherty said. Yet, successive public opinion polls suggest exactly that outcome.

"The only person who has got nothing to lose in all of this is Gilles Duceppe."

The Bloc leader, buoyed by outrage in Quebec over the sponsorship debacle, can expect to closely mirror or perhaps improve on his party's dominant lead in the province, Mr. Docherty said.

"For him, it makes no difference whether (the election) is February or April."

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