OTTAWA – Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff met for more than an hour today and agreed to sit down together again tonight in an effort to find common ground and avoid a summer election.
Spokesmen for both the prime minister and the Liberal leader called the meeting “productive,” but provided no other detail.
Ignatieff simply waved as he left the Prime Minister’s Office across the street from Parliament.
The pair agreed to meet after Ignatieff demanded answers to key economic questions in exchange for keeping the minority government afloat.
Specifically, Ignatieff wants to know:
-Details of Harper’s proposal to change the employment insurance system.
-When the ballooning deficit will be eliminated.
-How much money has been spent on stimulus projects.
-How the medical isotope crisis will be addressed.
If he doesn’t like the answers, Ignatieff could bring the government down in a confidence vote Friday on supplementary budget estimates.
Harper invited Ignatieff to the meeting, but he also emphasized that he can’t act on complex issues such as EI in a matter of days.
Both leaders insist they don’t want a summer election but neither do they want to lose the political upper hand.
Ignatieff doesn’t want to be painted as weak and indecisive like his predecessor, Stephane Dion, who voted with the government out of fear of an election.
Harper can’t afford to appear intractable or secretive, for fear of a backlash during a federal election.
As their leaders tried to make nice behind closed doors, MPs pounded each other with insults and expressions of outrage in the House of Commons.
Questions about how many infrastructure projects are underway quickly degenerated into partisan mud-slinging.
Treasury Board President Vic Toews accused the Liberals of being “irresponsible” for threatening an election and claimed infrastructure negotiations across the country would be halted during the vote.
The Liberals angrily dismissed the claim, saying bureaucrats conduct negotiations, not politicians.
Liberal MP Denis Coderre went so far as to claim people will “starve” this summer unless the Conservatives adopt changes to EI eligibility.
NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair ridiculed Ignatieff’s tactics, underlining that the NDP is firmly opposed to the Conservative government as a matter of principle.
“When we bluff, we have to have more than a pair of twos in our hand,” Mulcair said. “That’s what Mr. Ignatieff has, and it’s a transparent bluff.”