Tories expected to take battle to voters

Transport Minister John Baird suggested Thursday that the Conservative party's strategy over the next few weeks will be to go beyond MPs and the Governor General and ask the Canadian public to decide who's right in the current political crisis.

Transport Minister John Baird suggested Thursday that the Conservative party's strategy over the next few weeks will be to go beyond elected members of Parliament and the Governor General and ask the Canadian public to decide who's right in the current political crisis.

Around midday, Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean agreed to a request from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to suspend Parliament, a move that delays a confidence vote set for Monday that could have toppled his minority government.

"We are going to see something rivalling an election campaign between now and when Parliament comes back," said CBC's Don Newman.

The quasi-election campaign will unfold over the holiday season with speeches, advertising and polling in the weeks ahead of resumption of Parliament on Jan. 26, said CBC's Keith Boag.

Speaking to reporters outside the Governor General's residence, Harper said the first item on the agenda when Parliament begins will be the budget. The government could be toppled at that time in a confidence vote.

In the meantime, the Conservatives will seek to encourage Canadians to pressure members of Parliament so the NDP and Liberals lose the nerve to proceed with their coalition, said Boag.

"The more time they get to think about it … the more hesitant they may become. That's their objective," said Boag.

Turning to voters

Earlier in the day, Baird said the party is focusing on voters.

"I think what we want to do is basically take a time out and go over the heads of the members of Parliament, go over the heads, frankly, of the Governor General, go right to the Canadian people," Baird said Thursday morning in the foyer of the House of Commons, partly echoing a famous speech by the late Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

"They're speaking up loudly right across the country in a way I've never seen them," he said.

Pressed on whether he considered the House of Commons and the vice-regal envoy to have less authority, Baird responded: "We live in a democracy. [The Canadian people] are the ones that rule. They're speaking up loudly."

Two postal workers hold pro-coalition signs as they rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

Indeed, Canadians voiced their opinions in rallies held across the country Thursday.

Upwards of 2,000 people gathered on Parliament Hill in support of a Liberal-NDP coalition government — even as news came that Jean had approved Harper's request to suspend Parliament.

"Hey hey! Ho ho! Stephen Harper has got to go!" demonstrators chanted.

The event was one of several pro-coalition gatherings held in major cities, including Halifax, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

But in Edmonton, about 200 anti-coalition demonstrators gathered outside the office of NDP MP Linda Duncan, Alberta's only non-Conservative MP, calling on her to resign.

They sang the national anthem and songs such as Hit the Road, Jack in reference to NDP Leader Jack Layton as passing vehicles honked.

The Conservatives have repeatedly dismissed the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition, which would operate with the support of the Bloc Québécois, as a betrayal of Canadians who voted in the election seven weeks ago.

Baird said he expects the proposed coalition to dissolve before the government reconvenes.

"I think enough of them will change their minds and this thing will fall apart," he said.

Baird said there are already cracks in the Liberal caucus, pointing to an article in the Guelph Mercury in which area MP Francis Valeriote was quoted as speaking out against the coalition.

"I believe in working toward a solution, not working toward a coalition," the Liberal representative said, according to the newspaper.

Baird said former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney was criticized 20 years ago for "flirting with separatists," and Trudeau's Liberal party would never have agreed to this type of arrangement.

"It sells out everything the country stands for to bring the separatists into a coalition on the government side of the House," said Baird.

"I think the lust for power has almost obscured what has always been fairly strong judgment when it comes to national unity and the Liberal party."

Trudeau speaks out

But Justin Trudeau said the Conservatives have misrepresented how his father would have addressed the current political turmoil.

The newly elected Liberal MP said his father was dedicated to Canada and always willing to step up for Canadians in their time of need, and negotiated a number of times with Rene Levesque of the Parti Québécois when Levesque was Quebec premier.

"There was an openness to respecting other people's points of view if we can work together for common causes," Trudeau said.

The coalition emerged after Conservatives released a mini-budget blasted by all opposition parties.

They accused Harper of doing nothing to address the financial turmoil and using the fiscal update to introduce what they saw as ideologically driven measures that attacked women and workers.

At issue was a three-year ban on the right of civil servants to strike, elimination of public subsidies for political parties and limits on the ability of women to sue for pay equity.

While the Tories have backed down on those contentious issues, the opposition still says the government is not addressing the economic situation.

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 files from the Canadian Press