Canada govt bets future on taxes, crime crackdown

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OTTAWA, Oct 17 (Reuters) The minority Conservative government made controversial statements on climate change and Afghanistan in a policy speech that must win the approval of Parliament or Canada will head to early elections.

With the speech, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has put his government's survival on the line, bolstered by recent polls and aware that the main opposition Liberal Party is in such disarray that it is reluctant to topple him.

The government promised multiyear tax cuts and a crackdown on crime, relatively noncontroversial issues, but it also included policies that the Liberals do not like on climate change and Afghanistan.

The two smallest opposition parties, the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democrats, have already signaled they were likely to vote against the speech.

But the Conservatives, elected in January 2006, only need support from one opposition party to survive, and the Liberals said ahead of the speech that the government was unlikely to be in danger.

''There is no clamor for an election anywhere in the country,'' senior Liberal adviser Gerard Kennedy told CBC television.

Kennedy said the Liberals would focus on expressing Canadians' needs and reconnecting with residents of the second-most populous province of Quebec.

The party is in trouble in Quebec, which was once a rich source of seats for the Liberals, and two top officials in the Quebec Liberal organization have quit in the last few days.

The government said Canada's greenhouse gas emissions were 33 per cent above its commitment under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and it would not be able to meet the targets.

All opposition parties have called for Kyoto compliance.

The Conservatives also reiterated a promise for Parliament to vote on any extension of the military 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 that 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 that could bring down the government and spark an election.


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