TORONTO – Canada's three opposition parties said Wednesday they planned to topple the conservative government in a vote of no confidence in Parliament on Friday and trigger the country's fourth election in seven years.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs the support of at least one opposition party to stay in power, but all three rejected Harper's proposed budget after it was announced Tuesday.
The trigger that's expected to bring Harper down are allegations — supported Monday by a Parliamentary committee — that Harper has acted in contempt of Parliament by failing to disclose the full financial details of his tougher crime legislation, corporate tax cuts and plans to purchase stealth fighter jets.
The opposition is set to introduce a no-confidence vote on the contempt issue on Friday, which could trigger an election that would take place either May 2 or May 9.
"This government has lost the confidence of Canadians," Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said.
Earlier, Harper urged the opposition to support his latest budget plan. And he called on opposition members to explain their refusal to support it during a time of economic uncertainty.
"Our economy is not a political game. The global recovery is still fragile. Relative to other nations, Canada's economic recovery has been strong, but its continuation is by no means assured," Harper said.
Canada is likely to emerge from an election with little changed unless the opposition parties join forces in a coalition.
Opinion polls expect Harper's Conservative Party to win, but not outright, meaning he will continue to govern with a minority in Parliament, dependent on opposition votes to stay afloat.
Harper's Conservatives hold 143 seats in Parliament. The Liberals have 77, the New Democrats 36 and the Bloc Quebecois 47.
The opposition parties tried to form a coalition government after Harper won minority re-election in 2008, but before he could be defeated in a no confidence vote Harper shut down Parliament for three months and successfully whipped up public opposition against the coalition.
Harper might be gambling that an election now will confound conventional wisdom and hand him the majority in Parliament that has eluded him through his five-year tenure as prime minister. He is counting on the economy to help him win re-election.
Canada has outperformed other major industrialized democracies through the financial crisis, recovering all jobs lost during the recession while its banking sector remains intact. It avoided a property crash, and most economists expect 2010 growth to come in at 3 percent.
But Harper is a center-right prime minister in a traditionally liberal country, and his plan to cut corporate tax rates has given the opposition, led by the left-leaning Liberals, an opening to argue that Canada is running a record deficit that will only worsen if taxes are cut.
Opposition parties also are hammering the prime minister for planning to spend at least $9 billion on 65 American-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighters — one of the biggest military purchases in Canadian history — plus at least $5 billion more in maintenance costs.
Dimitri Soudas, Harper's top spokesman, noted that Ignatieff didn't rule out forming a coalition government with the other opposition parties when he was asked about it on Wednesday.
"There is no doubt, if given the opportunity, Michael Ignatieff will form a coalition with the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois," Soudas said in an email to The Associated Press.
New Democrat leader Jack Layton told The AP he would not rule out forming a coalition with Ignatieff.
"We're not closing the door to any possibility there," Layton said. Layton also said they would target Harper in the campaign.
An election would offer the first opportunity to witness a faceoff between Harper and Ignatieff since Ignatieff took over the Liberal Party in December 2008.
Ignatieff, 63, is one of Canada's leading intellectuals: an author, historian and TV panel regular in Britain before going into politics.
Harper, 51, is a career politician who has spent the last five years emphasizing a more conservative Canadian identity and moving Canada incrementally to the right. He has gradually lowered sales and corporate taxes, increased spending on the military and made Arctic sovereignty a priority.
He has called Canada an emerging "energy super power" in reference to Alberta's oil sands deposits, the second largest oil reserves in the world, and has avoided enacting environmental legislation that would hurt the sector.
In foreign policy, he's extended Canada's role in Afghanistan and he's been a staunch ally of Israel's right wing government.
Harper was elected in 2006 partly because of a corruption scandal involving the Liberals, but opposition parties recently have made inroads in attacking the Harper government for its alleged ethical shortcomings.
Last week, Harper asked police to look into the activities of Bruce Carson, a key former aide. Carson, 66, is accused of using the access he had to senior members of the government to lobby on behalf of a company affiliated with his 22-year-old fiancee, a former escort.