By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper shut down Parliament on Thursday in an unprecedented attempt to keep his Conservative government in power, fending off a no-confidence vote he was all but certain to lose.
Less than two months after winning re-election, Harper successfully asked the unelected representative of the head of state for the power to close down Parliament until January, hoping to buy enough time to develop a stimulus package that could prop up the economy.
"Today's decision will give us an opportunity - I'm talking about all the parties - to focus on the economy and work together," Harper said after the meeting.
Three opposition parties have united against Harper, charging he has failed to insulate Canada from the global financial crisis. The credit crisis and a global sell off of commodities have slowed Canada's resource-rich economy, and the finance minister said last week he expects a recession.
Liberal leader Stephane Dion said the opposition would seek to oust Harper unless he makes a "monumental change" in dealing with the economy and other parties.
"For the first time in the history of Canada the prime minister is running away from the Parliament of Canada," Dion said.
The opposition was also outraged by a government proposal to scrap public subsidies for political parties, something the opposition groups rely on more than the Conservatives. Although that proposal was withdrawn, the opposition has continued to seek Harper's ouster, saying he has lost the trust and confidence of parliament.
Governor General Michaelle Jean, who represents Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, had the power to grant the unusual request to suspend parliament. Had she refused, Harper would have had two choices: step down or face a no-confidence vote Monday he was sure to lose.
Opposition New Democrat leader Jack Layton called it a sad day.
"He's trying to lock the door of Parliament so that the elected people cannot speak," Layton said. "He's trying to save his job."
Layton said the shut down only delays Harper's inevitable defeat.
Harper's Conservative Party was re-elected Oct. 14 with a strengthened minority government, but still must rely on the opposition to pass legislation.
The Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois, which together control a majority of parliament's 308 seats, signed a pact agreeing to vote this coming Monday to oust Harper and setting the structure for their proposed coalition government.
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