Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean has granted a request from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to suspend Parliament until late next month, a move that avoids a confidence vote set for Monday that could have toppled his minority government.
"Following my advice, the Governor General has agreed to prorogue Parliament," Harper said outside Rideau Hall after a 2½-hour meeting with Jean.
Harper would not reveal the content of the discussion, citing constitutional traditions, but he said the first order of business when Parliament resumes on Jan. 26 will be the presentation of the federal budget, to be delivered the following day.
"The economy is the priority now, and the public is very frustrated with the situation in Parliament. We're all responsible for that," Harper said in French.
Monday's no-confidence vote could have precipitated the rise of a proposed Liberal-NDP coalition, supported by the Bloc Québécois, or could have resulted in another election, depending on the Governor General's response.
The decision to suspend Parliament — made after Jean cut short a two-week trip to Europe — only gives the ruling Conservatives a reprieve until Parliament resumes in about two months. At that point, the Tory government could be brought down when it tables the budget, which would be a confidence vote, as all money bills are.
In the interim, the Tories will continue to wage a public relations blitz against the Liberal-NDP coalition. But the opposition parties showed no sign of easing talks of a coalition and planned to continue waging their own campaigns to gain public support.
'Monumental change' required: Dion
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion accused Harper of "running away" from Parliament, and said only a "monumental change" from the prime minister would change his position on toppling the government.
"Warm sentiments are not enough. His behaviour must change," Dion told reporters.
NDP Leader Jack Layton suggested that his party may even try to bring down the government at the first opportunity — voting against a speech from the throne even before the Conservatives table the budget.
"We need a government that actually believes in what it's doing," Layton told reporters.
"[Confidence in the government] isn't going to be restored by seven weeks of propaganda."
He also accused Harper of attacking democracy by using a "parliamentary trick to put the locks on the door" so MPs cannot express themselves.
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, meanwhile, accused Harper of denigrating Quebec voters and asking his supporters to engage in the "worst attacks" against Quebecers since the Meech Lake Accord.
The reference was to the failed attempt to bring Quebec back into the constitutional fold under then prime minister Brian Mulroney.
Asked whether the Bloc might support the Conservative budget, Duceppe said he would be surprised if Harper met their demands.
Supporters greeted Harper
Harper was greeted by about 40 chanting supporters, including many Tory staffers, when he arrived at Rideau Hall, the Governor General's residence, at 9:30 a.m. ET. A single anti-Harper demonstrator stood waving a sign reading "Harper Must Go."
Opposition parties had hoped to have a word with the Governor General before she made her decision. They planned to present her with a petition with signatures from all NDP and Liberal members that the Conservatives had lost the confidence of the House and urging her to accept a coalition government.
Dion, who would head the proposed coalition, had said he sent a letter to Jean on Wednesday, urging her to reject any attempt by Harper to prorogue Parliament.
The Conservatives have lost the confidence of the majority of members of the House of Commons — largely because of their, in the opposition's view, inadequate reaction to Canada's financial crunch — and thus "have lost the right to govern," Dion had said.
The Conservative leader had vowed to use "every legal means" to prevent a Liberal-NDP coalition government from taking power and took to the airwaves late Wednesday to make his case to the public.
In a five-minute, pre-recorded statement Wednesday night, Harper spoke bluntly against the coalition backed by "separatists," saying the federal government must stand unequivocally for keeping the country together in the face of the global economic crisis.
Economic statement lambasted
The coalition sprang up after the Tories released an economic statement lambasted by the opposition parties.
They accused Harper of doing nothing to address the current economic crisis and slammed what they saw as ideologically driven measures such as the proposed elimination of subsidies for political parties, a three-year ban on the right of civil servants to strike and limits on the ability of women to sue for pay equity.
Harper has since backed down on those contentious issues, but the opposition has pushed forward with the coalition.
The coalition — which would have a 24-member cabinet composed of six NDP and 18 Liberal MPs — has vowed to make an economic stimulus package a priority, proposing a multibillion-dollar plan that would include help for the auto and forestry sectors.
With 77 Liberal MPs and 37 New Democrats, plus the support of 49 Bloc members, the three parties have more seats than the 143 held by the Tories.