Canada Liberals mull costs of defeating government

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OTTAWA, Oct 17 (Reuters) Canada's main opposition Liberal Party debated on Wednesday whether to topple the minority Conservative government, but seemed content to hold its fire, with several members saying they, along with the rest of the country, had no appetite for an early election.

Parliament will have to decide whether to back yesterday's policy speech in which the Conservatives promised tax cuts and new crime legislation, and said it would be impossible to meet Canada's Kyoto commitments on greenhouse gas emissions.

The government needs at least one party's support to survive.

The two smallest parties have said they would vote against the government's agenda, leaving it to the Liberals to keep the Conservatives in power or force the third general election in 3-1/2 years.

But the Liberal Party is in disarray, with open fighting going on in its once-powerful Quebec wing and with waning enthusiasm for leader Stephane Dion. Insiders say the party does not have campaign planes ready in case an election is called quickly.

''I think it would be in the best interest not to go now,'' Member of Parliament Bill Matthews said before heading into a Liberal caucus to decide how to approach the government's policy agenda, known as the Speech from the Throne.

''I think we need some further restructuring of the party and reorganization.'' As things stand now, polls show that the Liberals, who formed Canadian governments from 1993 to 2006, would likely lose seats in an election, and that seems to make the leadership cautious about teaming up with the other opposition parties to bring the government down.

''It's a Pyrrhic victory if you have a vote in the House of Commons today but then 37 days later you have a different result with the electorate,'' Ralph Goodale, who runs the Liberal agenda in the House, told CBC television.

Rarely will an opposition party agree with everything in a Throne Speech, so what people were looking at was whether there was something so egregious that the Liberals would would feel compelled to vote against it.

''I don't see poison pills here, I see studied ambiguity,'' deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told CBC yesterday night. ''I don't think Canadians want an election. This is a country that is electioned out.'' Even so, the speech's language on Kyoto -- so close to Liberal leader Dion's heart that he named his dog after the protocol -- runs contrary to Liberal policy, but may not be strong enough to become a political tipping point.

The government also rejected Dion's request to pledge an end to the combat mission in Afghanistan when the current mandate is up in February 2009. But it did not commit the government to an extension either, leaving a way out for the Liberals.

Some members from the Toronto area, where the Liberals are surest of retaining seats, said the speech was a trap and the party should topple Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

''Mr. Harper is baiting us. Mr. Harper wants an election. If this continues, he's going to get one he's going to remember,'' said Toronto legislator Jim Karygiannis.

But even his bravado was laced with a sober assessment of the party's current state. ''I think we can pick up the pieces and I think we can win,'' he said.

Harper has raised the stakes with yesterday's speech by saying that if it passes he will take it as a full mandate to govern, and his ministers were reinforcing the idea that the opposition should not block major initiatives if it lets it pass.

''You can't allow the Throne Speech to pass and then fight everything in it so nothing gets done for Canadians. That's why the crime bill is so important. We can't have the Liberals watering down legislation that gets tough on crime,'' Environment Minister John Baird told CFRA radio in Ottawa.

REUTERS RSA RN2216

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