Canada opposition set to avoid triggering election

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OTTAWA, Oct 15 (Reuters) A policy speech this week gives Canada's opposition parties a chance to bring the minority Conservative government down, but the opposition is probably too unsure of its own chances to trigger a new election.

The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper will lay out its priorities in the so-called Throne Speech today, followed by a confidence vote later in the month.

Harper needs the support of at least one other party to stay in power. Given that the left-leaning New Democrats and separatist Bloc Quebecois are certain to vote against him, the final decision rests with the Liberals, the largest opposition party.

The Liberals -- losing public support and trying to quell internal dissent about the patchy performance of leader Stephane Dion -- are not enthusiastic about an election.

Insiders say the party organization is in calamitous shape.

''We have a lot of disagreements with the current government, but at the same time we want this Parliament to work,'' Dion told CTV yesterday.

''And we respect the result of the last election where it was a Conservative government that has been elected.'' That position means the speech will have to be completely unacceptable for the Liberals before they vote against. Pushing the opposition that far could prompt accusations that Harper -- who says he does not want an election -- was trying to provoke his own defeat.

New legislation specifies the next federal vote will be in October 2009 and the Conservatives say they want to govern until then. But the party is riding high in opinion polls, and influential Harper aides are keen for an earlier vote.

''Some of the key people close to the prime minister want an election. The question is how to trigger one without looking totally opportunistic,'' said one well-placed Conservative.

The Conservatives control 126 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament.

''What we really are seeking is a mandate to govern. And we want to be clear with Parliament about that. We want to be clear that the alternative that is not available is obstruction in the House of Commons,'' Industry Minister and close Harper ally Jim Prentice told CTV.

An Ipsos-Reid poll on Friday put support for the Conservatives at 40 percent, the bare minimum needed to get a majority under Canada's first-past-the-post electoral system.

Harper said last week that his priorities would be the economy, protecting Arctic sovereignty, fighting crime and working out what to do with the military mission in Afghanistan, which is due to end in early February 2009.

He also said he wanted to do more for the environment, which is a vulnerable spot for the Conservatives. Harper says Canada cannot meet targets for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases under the Kyoto protocol on climate change.

Aides let slip that the throne speech would describe Kyoto as irrelevant, challenging one of the Liberals' main policies.

If the Liberals backed such a speech it could make them look weak, and underline the Conservative message that Dion is not a real leader.

''If it's a throne speech that is outrageous regarding the values in which we believe, we Liberals cannot ... support something we think is wrong for Canadians,'' said Dion.

One idea floated by back bench Liberals is that Dion and other prominent members would oppose a throne speech, but enough party members would stay away from Parliament to ensure the speech was adopted.

REUTERS SKB RN2005

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