Dissent in Liberal ranks appears after Parliament suspended

Doubts about the Liberals' commitment to their coalition with the NDP are coming to light in the wake of Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean's decision to grant Prime Minister Stephen Harper's request to suspend Parliament.

Toronto MP casts doubts about Dion's leadership abilities

Toronto Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, shown in this February 2006 file photo, is questioning Stéphane Dion's leadership abilities. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))
Doubts about the Liberals' commitment to their coalition with the NDP are coming to light in the wake of Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean's decision to grant Prime Minister Stephen Harper's request to suspend Parliament.

Toronto MP Jim Karygiannis told reporters after emerging from the Liberal caucus meeting Thursday afternoon that he didn't think the NDP-Liberal coalition would survive until Parliament resumes on Jan. 26.

"The coalition, the way that we're going right now, won't survive," he told reporters in Ottawa.

Jean's decision earlier Thursday allows Harper and his Conservatives to sidestep a confidence vote scheduled for Monday that would have toppled the minority government. The expected no-confidence vote would have potentially brought a Liberal-NDP coalition — supported by the Bloc Québécois — to power.

"Having fought the NDP in my first campaign when I was running provincially, I know the NDP are vicious — vicious when it comes to electing members of Parliament," said Karygiannis.

"It's not that I have a mistrust for the NDP. I just think that we need better communication. Our communication sucks. It was shown last night," he said, referring to an address delivered by Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion on national television Wednesday night.

The video served as a rebuttal to Harper's address, in which the Conservative leader said the coalition would lead Canada down the wrong path. Dion's video was poorly focused, and Karygiannis suggested it looked amateurish.

Karygiannis also suggested Dion should step aside sooner rather than later and expressed doubts about the quality of his English. The Liberals will select a new leader at a party convention in Vancouver in May.

"I'm telling you what I'm feeling, I'm telling you what I said in caucus," he said.

Ranks close in support

But other senior Liberals were quick to counter the comments by Karygiannis.

"I didn't hear Mr. Karygiannis' remarks, but if he and anyone else is saying that's what was said in caucus, it's not true at all," said Toronto MP Gerard Kennedy.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion answers a reporter's question after Parliament was prorogued in Ottawa on Thursday. ((Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press))
Toronto MP Michael Ignatieff, the front-runner in the race to take over the Liberal leadership from Dion, criticized Karygiannis harshly.

"Every single [Liberal] is aware of the seriousness of this, every single one of us is trying to rise to the expectations which Canadians have of us, and Mr. Karygiannis' characterizations of these discussions today is unworthy of the caucus to which he belongs."

Just hours earlier, Dion said the Liberals are "more committed than ever" to replacing the Tories in government.

Dion said Harper would have to make "monumental changes" to his policies to save the minority government. Dion did not specify what those changes were, but said they are reflected in the coalition agreement.

The three opposition parties said they would bring down the government because last week's fiscal update delivered by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty did not include an economic stimulus package they said was needed given the country's trying economic times.

Dion said he still has no confidence in Harper's ability to lead Canada through an economic crisis, but "respects" Jean's decision to grant Harper's request.

Harper uses move to 'escape accountability': Layton

NDP Leader Jack Layton was also quick to voice his dissatisfaction with Harper.

Harper has refused "to face the people of Canada through their elected representatives," Layton told reporters in Ottawa.

NDP Leader Jack Layton reacts to the suspension of the House on Thursday. (CBC)
"Instead, unfortunately, he's used a manoeuvre to escape accountability. That is an attack on democracy, and we cannot have confidence in someone who could do such a thing," said Layton.

The NDP is prepared to get to work on a budget "right now," said Layton.

Layton said he offered several ideas and specific initiatives during an hour-long meeting with Harper in the leadup to the government's economic update, but that the prime minister rejected them all.

"Not only did he reject them, but he took away my right as a member of Parliament to vote on confidence in the government," said Layton.

"He had his chance, we don't trust him. We will deliver an economic program as soon as we are given an opportunity to do so."

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.

Duceppe accuses Harper of attacking Quebec

"The Conservative leader denigrated the votes of all Quebecers," Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe told reporters in Ottawa.

"He has asked his supporters to engage in the worst attacks against Quebecers since Meech Lake.

"He has done this simply to save his own skin."

Following an intensive 1987 bargaining session at Meech Lake, Que., then prime minister Brian Mulroney and the 10 provincial premiers struck a deal to bring Quebec back into the constitutional fold.

The province had refused to sign on to the 1982 Constitution Act brought in by Pierre Trudeau's government.

However, the constitutional amendments packaged in the Meech Lake Accord were never adopted because two provinces — Manitoba and Newfoundland — failed to ratify it by the agreed-upon June 1990 deadline.