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PM dares Harper to work "hand-in-hand" with Duceppe  

[PoliticsWatch Updated 3:45 p.m. September 16, 2005]

OTTAWA  — Prime Minister Paul Martin acknowledged Friday that the opposition parties have the numbers to defeat his government in the House of Commons this fall, but dared Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to work with the separatist Bloc Quebecois to force an election.   
   

Speaking at a press conference on the final day of the UN Summit in New York the PM said the Liberals' focus this fall "is not on electioneering." 

"If the Conservatives in concert with the Bloc -- as they did last year -- decide that that's the road they want to walk down - Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe hand in hand - that's their decision and they do have the capacity to bring us down. 

"And the decision that they're going to have to make, the Conservatives, is do they want to go to the people having formed that alliance with the Bloc as the picture they want to present to Canadians?"

Talk of a fall election increased this week after Justice John Gomery said his second report on the sponsorship scandal will be delayed until February. 

Gomery will issue two reports - a fact-finding report in November that is expected to be a harsh assessment of the sponsorship program and a series of recommendations to be released in February. 

The prime minister has promised to call an election within 30 days of the second report, which would be almost five months after Gomery releases his findings of fault. 

That would mean the campaign would start five months after Gomery releases what is expected to be a harsh assessment of the Liberal government. 

This week, Deputy Conservative Leader Peter MacKay told the Canadian Press that the further delay of Gomery increases the odds of the opposition parties defeating the government after judge's first report in November. 

The PM's promise could be interpreted as "30 days after the first Gomery report, as far as the opposition is concerned."

On Friday, Martin said that waiting for Gomery's second report and the recommendations of how to prevent a similar scandal from happening again is a debate Canadians want to see. 

"They want to see what the political parties have to say about how they will deal with the conclusions of that second report," the PM said.

"And I happen to believe that Canadians are entitled to know what that is. We are ready and most certainly will be ready to say to Canadians this is exactly how we will deal with issues like this so they do not reoccur.

"And I think that Canadians are entitled to know from the other political parties where they stand."

While public opinion polling over the summer shows the sponsorship scandal is no longer a major issue with Canadians, it will undoubtedly become a hot topic again when Gomery issues his first report on November 1. 

There are two wild cards in how it will affect politics in Ottawa. How scathing will Gomery's first report be of the governing party? And, how damaging will a judge's findings be to the polling numbers of the party in power?

The Liberals have seen their numbers drop more than 10 points in less than two weeks twice over the past two years after stunning sponsorship revelations from the auditor general and ad man Jean Brault. 

But their numbers slowly crept back up within weeks of those revelations. 

Gomery isn't expected to reveal anything new, but an official judicial seal of disapproval could have the same effect as Sheila Fraser's money flow charts and Brault's stories about envelopes full of cash. 

Based on the recent past sponsorship polling trends, the opposition parties will have a small window of opportunity to capitalize on any hit the government will take from the first report. 

The five months between the release of the first report and the election call will be more than enough of a cooling off period for the public based on the last two times sponsorship has shaken the Liberals in the polls. 

Despite MacKay's comments this week, Conservative MP Monte Solberg said in an interview with PoliticsWatch that his party could support the Liberals on confidence matters this fall, such as tax cuts. 

Finance Minister Ralph Goodale said in Montreal this week that his government planned to reintroduce corporate tax cuts in separate legislation.

The government removed the cuts from last spring's budget as part of a deal with the NDP to prop up the government on confidence votes. 

NDP Leader Jack Layton told his caucus this week that he was "firmly opposed" to a Liberal plan to reintroduce the corporate tax cuts. 

Without NDP support, the Liberals are vulnerable to being defeated, but Solberg said his party could support such legislation even if it meant passing up an opportunity to take the Liberals down. 

"If we think this is good for the country, then we'll support," he said. 

"We're not just looking for opportunities to knock the government out in the fall."

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