Votes on budget and war could lead to early election

By Jim Fox, Times Correspondent
Published February 17, 2008

The Canada report

A showdown over federal spending plans and whether to extend Canada's mission in Afghanistan is nearing, and it could topple the minority Conservative government.

Should the opposition parties not support the Conservative budget on Feb. 28 or a motion on Afghanistan and "defeat" the government, a federal election could be held as early as April 7.

With Parliament resuming this week, Liberal insiders say leader Stephane Dion has privately indicated he wants to bring down the government and send the country into another election.

The Conservatives haven't said when the vote will be held on keeping Canadian troops in Afghanistan beyond next year's deadline, but there will be two days of debate on the issue starting Feb. 25.

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton said it appears the Liberals won't force an election over Afghanistan, meaning his is the only antiwar national party.

Ambassador calls Harper most powerful

U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins says Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the most powerful politician in the world.

Speaking at a Canadian cultural conference in Montreal called "Are We American?" Wilkins said Canada's parliamentary system has an executive and legislative body effectively controlled by one person.

"That is much more power concentrated in that one position than our president ever thought about having," he said.

News in brief

-Ontario residents will celebrate Family Day for the first time on Monday. Aimed at giving Ontarians a break to be with the family during winter, the holiday was enacted as an election promise by the Conservative government of Premier Dalton McGuinty.

-Nova Scotia police have questioned several suspects after the discovery of the body of Karissa Boudreau, 12, near Bridgewater. She disappeared from a store parking lot on Jan. 27. Her body was found about 2 miles away in the snow in Conquerall Bank.

-Two men and a woman escorting a teenage hockey team were arrested when their Air Canada flight landed in Montreal. The pilot asked for assistance with troublesome passengers who had too much to drink en route from London's Heathrow Airport.

Facts and figures

Canada's dollar dropped below parity with the U.S. currency on Friday after a report showed Canadian manufacturing sales dropped 3.4 percent to $48.6-billion in December, the lowest in three years.

The dollar dropped to 99.83 cents U.S. while the U.S. dollar was worth $1.0017 Canadian, before bank exchanges fees.

The Bank of Canada's key interest rate is steady at 4 percent while the prime lending rate is 5.75 percent.

Canadian stock markets are higher, with the Toronto Exchange index at 13,177 points and the TSX Venture Exchange at 2,579 points.

Lotto 6-49: Wednesday 14, 24, 26, 29, 41, 46; bonus 22. (Feb. 9) 3, 17, 26, 33, 39, 46; bonus 18. Super 7: (Feb. 8) 9, 14, 19, 31, 35, 41, 46; bonus 27.

Regional briefs

-Dealing with almost 15,000 refugee claimants on welfare is costing Ontario taxpayers $135-million a year, a report said. The federal government is being asked for added financial assistance for Toronto, Windsor, Hamilton, Niagara and Peel, where many claimants, largely Haitians arriving from the United States, have settled.

-Ed Stelmach, seeking re-election as premier of Alberta on March 3, said his Conservatives will take "strong and aggressive" action on crime. He promised to hire at least 100 additional police officers along with more prosecutors and provincial judges.

-Residents of Saint John, New Brunswick, were advised for several days to boil their drinking water. There are high levels of sediment and organic material in the system caused by heavy rain and winds that stirred up the eastern watershed.

-Quebec's "language police" have ordered an Irish pub in Montreal to remove antique advertising posters that are only in English. McKibbins Irish Pub's owners were told by the Office de la langue francaise that several signs contravene the province's French language laws.

Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com.