Harper set to trigger election call next week: PMO officials

Stephen Harper is poised to trigger an election call for Oct. 14, senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office said Friday.

Stephen Harper is poised to trigger an election call for Oct. 14, senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office said Friday.

The officials said no firm decision has been made, but that it's probable Harper will seek to dissolve his minority government next week, sending the country to the ballot box the day after Thanksgiving.

Harper has said the workings of the House of Commons, where his party's 127 seats give him a minority, have become "dysfunctional." The Liberals hold 95 seats, the Bloc 48 and the NDP 30. There are four independent MPs and four vacant seats.

PMO officials on Friday also intimated at the direction Harper's election campaign will take and the question Conservatives will pose to voters as they head into the vote.  

"We think it will be a choice between certainty and risk," one official said on condition of anonymity.

Officials described Harper as the "steady hand at the wheel" as the Canadian economy faces "rough waters."

"Love him or hate him, our prime minister knows where he stands on the issues and will offer Canadians certainty," the official said.

In particular, officials pointed to the $15.3-billion carbon tax proposed as part of the Liberals' Green Shift environmental plan, warning it would bankrupt the country's treasury if implemented.

No compromises with Bloc

A meeting Friday between Harper and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe gave the prime minister little hope that a fall session of Parliament can be productive, the officials said.

Earlier Friday, Duceppe also suggested that a federal election is imminent, saying he and Harper had laid out their positions, but did not talk about compromises.

"We explained our positions and [Harper] will consider them. I told him what our position was on all of the issues. Now, I think that beyond that, he is determined to have an election," Duceppe said following the meeting at the prime minister's residence in Ottawa.

Duceppe is the first opposition leader to respond to Harper's call for one-on-one meetings. Harper has sought meetings with all three opposition leaders to see if they can agree on an agenda for the fall session of Parliament, scheduled to begin Sept. 15.

NDP Leader Jack Layton will meet with Harper at 24 Sussex Drive on Saturday.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion's office has told Harper he would be available to meet with the prime minister on Sept. 9, a day after three byelections are to be held in Quebec and Ontario.

PM not willing to wait

Harper, however, has said he is unwilling to wait until Sept. 9 to discuss whether Parliament can continue as is.

PMO officials said Friday it is unlikely Harper will wait for a meeting with Dion to call the election.

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which falls on Oct. 14, may present a conflict for the Conservatives and prompt a backlash from the Jewish community, Liberal insiders said Friday.  

A PMO official acknowledged that Sukkot, along with Thanksgiving and several other religious holidays during October, "does present challenges" in choosing an election date, but suggested people can make use of advance polls in such a situation.

With files from the Canadian Press