Page last updated at 22:50 GMT, Thursday, 4 December 2008

Canada halts parliament amid row

Stephen Harper: "On my advice, the Governor-General has agreed to prorogue Parliament"

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has won a bid to suspend parliament, blocking an opposition attempt to topple his minority government.

The governor general agreed to Mr Harper's request, unprecedented in the country, after talks.

If the request had been rejected, he would have had to step down or face a confidence vote he was sure to lose.

Opposition parties had called the vote for Monday, accusing the government of failing to shore up the economy.

Governor General Michaelle Jean agreed to prorogue - or suspend - parliament until 26 January when the government is set to present its economic plan.

Ms Jean - the representative of head of state Queen Elizabeth II - has the right to make a final decision on such matters.

"Today's decision will give us an opportunity - I'm talking about all the parties - to focus on the economy and work together," Mr Harper said after the two-and-a-half-hour private meeting.

Stephane Dion (1 October 2008)
For the first time in the history of Canada the prime minister is running away from the parliament of Canada
Stephane Dion
Liberal leader

The Conservatives immediately shut down parliament, ending all debate.

The head of the main Liberal opposition party, Stephane Dion, said he was still committed to bringing down Mr Harper's government 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," Mr Dion was quoted as saying by AP news agency.

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," Mr Layton said. "He's trying to save his job."

Political drama

A prime minister's request to temporarily suspend parliament had never been turned down, but nor had such a request been made when the government was certain to lose a confidence vote.

"There is no precedent whatsoever in Canada and probably in the Commonwealth," constitutional expert Ned Franks told AP news agency. "We are in uncharted territory."

At a time like this, a coalition with separatists cannot help Canada
Stephen Harper
Canadian Prime Minister

The prime minister's manoeuvre comes at the end of a week of unprecedented political drama, says the BBC's Lee Carter in Toronto.

The constitutional crisis was triggered last week after the Conservatives presented a fiscal update that was angrily rejected by the opposition parties for not including an economic stimulus package and for proposing cuts to the public financing of political parties.

The Liberals and New Democrats signed a deal to defeat Mr Harper in a confidence vote scheduled for Monday and to form a coalition government.

Mr Harper's Conservatives won a strengthened minority in the 14 October election but are outnumbered in parliament by the combination of the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois.

'Backroom deal'

In a televised appeal on Wednesday, Mr Harper said the opposition pact was a threat to the country's democracy and economy.

Canadian Governor-General Michaelle Jean in Budapest 24/11/2008
Governor General Michaelle Jean makes final decisions on such matters

"At a time like this, a coalition with separatists cannot help Canada," he said, referring to the Bloc's desire for independence for Quebec.

"Tonight, I pledge to you that Canada's government will use every legal means at our disposal to protect our democracy, to protect our economy and to protect Canada."

Mr Harper called the opposition parties' power-sharing agreement a "backroom deal".

Ms Jean cut short a trip to Europe on Wednesday and flew back to Ottawa in an effort to deal with the growing political crisis after the three opposition parties formally advised her of their plan.

Ms Jean's other options were to have called a general election if the confidence vote went ahead and Mr Harper lost, or to have asked the opposition to form a new government.

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Houston Chronicle Opposition howls after Canada PM shuts Parliament - 45 mins ago
Washington Times Prime minister suspends Parliament - 1 hr ago
Toronto Star OnlineLiberals plan next move - 2 hrs ago
The Sun News Opposition vows to topple Canadian leader Harper - 2 hrs ago
The Record Harper gets breathing room - 3 hrs ago
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