Canada election risk shrinks after policy speech

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OTTAWA, Oct 17 (Reuters) Canada's minority Conservative government promised tax cuts and a crackdown on crime in a policy address that will likely garner enough opposition support to avoid an early election.

The Liberal opposition said it would provide a formal response today, but one key official said there appeared to be nothing in the speech that would prevent the Liberals from supporting it.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, bolstered by recent polls and aware that the Liberals are in disarray, included policies on climate change and the combat mission in Afghanistan that the opposition parties do not like.

The two smallest parties immediately said they would vote against the speech and Liberal leader Stephane Dion said there were serious deficiencies in it.

But, tellingly, Dion said: ''The priority of Canadians is that this Parliament works and there is not a third election in 3-1/2 years.'' Canadians went to the polls in June 2004 and again in January 2006, when the minority Conservative government was elected.

The Liberal caucus will review the speech today morning but a Liberal official said: ''There's no poison pill in that speech at all.'' Opposition Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe told reporters, before the speech was even finished, that Harper had not responded to any of his requests. He had demanded a pullout date for the Afghanistan mission and respect for the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

The head of the smallest party, the New Democrats' Jack Layton, also said his legislators would vote against the speech. ''We have a mandate to oppose the direction Mr Harper is taking us in,'' he said.

But the Conservatives need support from only one opposition party to survive, and the Liberals had already signaled before the policy speech they did not want a campaign now.

The Liberals are disorganized nationally and are in particular trouble in Quebec, which was once a rich source of seats for the party. Two top officials in the Quebec Liberal organization have quit in recent days.

KYOTO TARGETS The government said Canada's greenhouse gas emissions were 33 per cent above its commitment under the Kyoto Protocol and it would not be able to meet its targets, particularly as the compliance period starts on January 1, 2008.

The Conservatives also reiterated a promise for Parliament to vote on any extension of the combat mission in Afghanistan, currently set to end in February 2009.

But the speech also laid out the government's view of what should happen: ''Our government does not believe that Canada should abandon the people of Afghanistan after February 2009.'' It said Canada should build on its accomplishments and shift to accelerate the training of the Afghan army and police so the Afghan government could defend its own sovereignty.

''This will not be completed by February 2009, but our government believes this objective should be achievable by 2011,'' the speech said.

Three votes are expected on the speech, starting tomorrow evening, a second on Monday and the final vote on October 24. Each could be a matter of confidence, with the potential to bring down the government and spark an election.

REUTERS CS BST0633

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