SUDBURY, Ont. — Michael Ignatieff says there’s no turning back on his decision to try to topple the Harper government this fall, and it’s now up to the other parties to decide what they want to do.
The Liberal leader suggested Wednesday that there’s nothing Prime Minister Stephen Harper can do to persuade Liberals to continue propping up the minority Conservative government.
“We’re not in negotiation here. We did that in June,” Ignatieff told a news conference wrapping up a three-day Liberal caucus retreat.
Ignatieff backed away from the brink of an election in June, agreeing to negotiate potential reforms to employment insurance over the summer.
But he said those negotiations, which quickly became mired in partisan squabbling, proved the Harper government can’t be trusted to deal in good faith with opposition parties.
The bipartisan working group on EI reform was to meet again Thursday but Conservatives said the Liberals have now walked out of the discussions.
Ignatieff threw the election ball into the court of the NDP, which has consistently voted against Harper secure in the knowledge that the election-wary Liberals would avoid defeating the government.
“It’s up to the NDP to decide. I can’t decide for other parties.”
Since Ignatieff’s announcement Tuesday that Liberals will no longer support the government, New Democrats have been making noises about a possible election-averting deal with the Tories.
NDP Leader Jack Layton is to hold a news conference Thursday to clarify the party’s position.
The Bloc Quebecois, which has also consistently voted against the government, has not yet responded to the abrupt change in Liberal strategy.
Privately, Liberal strategists doubt either the NDP or the Bloc will agree to prop up Harper, something the two parties’ core supporters are likely to perceive as “a deal with the devil.”
Instead, they suspect Harper will provoke his own defeat by introducing a ways and means motion — implementing aspects of last January’s budget, including the popular home renovation tax credit — as soon as Parliament resumes on Sept. 14.
Such motions are automatically deemed confidence votes.
Liberals say they’ll oppose the motion but reinstate measures like the home-reno tax break should they form government.
The Tory ploy would rob Ignatieff of his chance to defeat the government on Liberal terms, with a planned confidence motion in the first week of October.
It would also force an election several weeks earlier than Liberals had intended and the Tories would try to sow some uncertainty about the Liberal stand on the home renovation measure.
Whatever the timing, Liberals were behaving Wednesday as though a fall election is certain.
MPs were shown television ads that will begin airing next Tuesday as part of a massive campaign to make voters more familiar with Ignatieff and what he stands for.
MPs said the ads were all “positive” and “high road,” featuring the leader clad in an open-necked blue shirt chatting informally about various issues, including the economy, the environment and Canada’s place in the world.
Ignatieff offered some sketchy details Wednesday about the party’s election platform, which he said would be unveiled soon and would include a plan to slay the massive deficit run up by the Tories — without raising taxes.
He said the platform will also include a Canadian-made cap-and-trade strategy to fight climate change, unlike the Tories who are waiting to see the American plan.
“We are not going to wait for the United States, we are not going to wait for Mr. Obama . . . Canadian climate change policy gets made in Canada, it doesn’t get made in the United States.”
As far as Liberals are concerned, Ignatieff said the ballot question is: “Who is best placed to lead Canada into the economy of tomorrow?”
To that end, Liberals have adopted as a campaign slogan the simple refrain “We can do better.”Ignatieff accused the Tories of fiscal mismanagement and said the Liberals will offer a “more compassionate and a more competent government.”
“Remember the record — they offered us a budget with a deficit at $32 billion. It’s a big number. Six weeks later it’s jumped to $50 billion.
“So there’s a question not just about the size of the deficit but the basic competence of (Finance Minister) Jim Flaherty and Stephen Harper.”