Harper says fall election up to
[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:50 p.m. September 22, 2005]
OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Stephen Harper signaled Thursday he is ready to go to an election campaign at any time even though his party is trailing the governing Liberals in all polls.
"Don't ask me when the next election will be," Harper told a crowd of Tory staffers on Parliament Hill.
"I wish we already had it. I'll have it tomorrow. I'll have it a year from now. We're ready for an election at any time. Whether or not we have election this fall is a question for (NDP Leader) Jack Layton, not for me. We'll have an election the day the NDP decides it doesn't want to support Liberal corruption in the House of Commons any longer."
Layton and the NDP helped keep the Liberals in power in the spring after they successfully negotiated $4.6 billion in new social spending in the Liberal budget.
However, that agreement came to an end when the budget amendments received Royal Assent in June.
Layton has since said his party "will take it a step at a time" when it comes to voting with the Liberals, but has signaled he will vote against the government on a confidence motion to reinstate corporate tax cuts that were taken out of the last budget.
Finance Minister Ralph Goodale has said plans to reintroduce those measures.
Harper also used the speech to his supporters to address the recent comments of party insiders who have called on him to resign.
Last week, four Quebec Tories - including one party candidate and two former candidates - sent an e-mail to some Ottawa reporters in which they said the party cannot win with Harper leading it.
"Harper and his gang don't care about Quebec," they wrote. "They will never make a breakthrough in Ontario. That is reality.
"We will never win the next elections. Harper will resign after, that's for sure. But why wait after the elections? Isn't it better for him to get out NOW?"
And this week, a Conservative riding official from Toronto who claims to have recruited Belinda Stronach to run for the party's leadership campaign sent an e-mail to a number of media outlets - including PoliticsWatch - in which she called on Harper to step down.
"The time has come for Stephen Harper to stop dreaming that his destiny is 24 Sussex Drive," wrote Carol Jamieson. "That day will only come if one of its residents invites him over because they are looking for a stick-in-the-mud dinner guest … The Canadian electorate is finished with him, they have made up their minds and have spoken in poll after poll. For him to stay now merely adds insult to the injuries and further damages the conservative franchise in this country."
Conservative MPs and spin doctors have tried to put the criticisms of a handful of the party's members in perspective, but a number of reporters in Ottawa are viewing the letters as a symptom of greater dissent within the Tory ranks.
On Thursday, Harper response to his critics was to not respond.
"Any Conservative anywhere any time can by criticizing other Conservatives become an instant and enormous media star," Harper said. "That's just the way it is. We'll have to get used to it.
Harper said a Conservative leader who wants win "ignores such people."
"It is a leader who does not spend his time attacking other Conservatives, it is a leader who spends his time attacking the Liberals," he said to applause from the audience.
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