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Duceppe threatens to topple Parliament over Afghanistan

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:15 p.m. December 11, 2006]

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe.

OTTAWA  —  Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said in Quebec City Monday that he may table of motion of non-confidence against the government in the House of Commons to protest Canada's mission in Afghanistan.  

It marked the first time the Bloc has threatened to topple the Tory government, which it has propped up on all confidence votes in the House since the election. 

Duceppe's comments to the Quebec Chamber of Commerce sent immediate shockwaves in Ottawa where Bloc House leader Michel Gauthier was asked to clarify. 

"Not at this moment but maybe," Gauthier told reporters after question period.

Gauthier said the Bloc wants Canada's presence in Afghanistan to focus more on rebuilding than on military engagement and would use such a motion to put pressure on the government to change Canada's role. 

"If the government refuse to change its mind on that it is possible that the Bloc will use a confidence motion against the government," he added. 

Parliament is expected to recess for a winter break on Wednesday so a non-confidence motion probably won't be tabled until after the House returns in the last week of January. 

The Bloc would introduce its non-confidence motion during its opposition day. Opposition days are a number of set days per sitting when the government is required to give opposition parties time to debate and vote on motions of their choosing.  

The Paul Martin Liberal government was defeated as a result of an opposition day non-confidence motion in late November last year. 

Gauthier said the Bloc could also introduce non-confidence motions on issues such as the fiscal imbalance and Kyoto. 

The Bloc's new threat to topple the government over Afghanistan could also be a gambit to embarrass the Liberals, whose polling numbers have improved in the week following the election of Stephane Dion as party leader. 

In May, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave short notice before allowing Parliament to vote on extending Canada's mission to Afghanistan through to 2009.  

The motion passed by a narrow four-vote margin. The Bloc and the NDP voted against the motion, but the Tories were able to pass it after 24 Liberal MPs voted with the government. 

The motion created friction in the Liberal caucus and then interim Liberal leader Bill Graham allowed a free vote. Most of the leadership candidates at the time, including Dion, voted against the government motion, largely on procedural grounds claiming Harper did not give the House enough time to study the motion. 

If Liberal MPs prop up the government on a confidence motion related to Afghanistan, then Duceppe can use it as a wedge issue in an election campaign that is expected in the spring. 

When asked by reporters if he would support the Bloc motion on Afghanistan, Dion was non-committal. 

"I will need to see the motion but I know that this government may fall at any time and my duty is to help my party to be ready at any time," he said. 

But he warned that despite the strong polling numbers he is in no rush to defeat the Tories. 

"I don’t want to rush to an election. I want to be ready for an election."

NDP Leader Jack Layton said he agreed with the premise of a Bloc motion requesting that Canada change its role, but he would not say if he would support a non-confidence motion. 

"Well, ultimately that is up to Mr. Harper to decide what he rules is a confidence test of his government and we will have to look at the motion, but look we have never had confidence in Mr. Harper’s approach to this foreign policy matter," he told reporters after question period.

"We have said so and we have voted accordingly and it would not be a surprise to Canadians to have us continue on that path. We believe that change is needed here." 

:  Related Links

> MPs take week off after heated Afghanistan debate 

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