Chances of early Canadian election all but vanish

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OTTAWA, Oct 18 (Reuters) The survival of Canada's minority Conservative government seemed assured after the opposition parties made it clear they would not bring it down in confidence votes over its policy platform.

The main opposition Liberal Party, in serious disarray and limping in national polls, decided it was too risky to force an election and said it would not topple Prime Minister Stephen Harper for now.

''We will not make the government fall on its Throne Speech, which would cause a third general election in four years, something Canadians have clearly shown they do not want,'' Liberal leader Stephane Dion told the House of Commons.

Drama on Parliament Hill had heightened this week because the Throne Speech, which opens a new session of Parliament and sets the government's agenda, is a matter of confidence and if it were voted down, Canadians would go to the polls.

The Conservatives were elected in January 2006 and require the support of at least one opposition party to remain in power. If they do not fall, the next election is set for October 2009.

Dion offered a hostile amendment to the speech, one Harper's office said afterward also would force an election if it were passed.

But that amendment was also destined to be defeated, ensuring the government's survival. The leader of the New Democratic Party, the smallest opposition party but with enough votes to sustain the Conservatives, told Reuters his party would vote against the Liberal amendment.

The Liberal leader said the government's speech was vague, full of holes and raised concerns on everything from the fight against climate change to his demand that Canada pull out of Afghanistan when the current combat mission's mandate expires in February 2009.

But his concerns were not enough for him to put his party's future on the line.

''It reminded me a little of the professor who goes through your term paper and marks all over it everything he disagrees with but then passes you anyway,'' Harper said to laughter in Parliament. Dion is a bookish former professor.

The prime minister, who also promised sweeping tax cuts, said that if the speech passes, he would take it as a mandate to govern.

Taking an uncompromising line, he said the government would hold the opposition to account by making an omnibus bill on violent crime -- to be its first legislation in the new session -- a matter of confidence. It will accept no amendments on the substance of that legislation.

Three votes regarding the Throne Speech are set for October 18, 22 and 24 but in light of the opposition statements they are now matters of formality.

REUTERS CS BST0521

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