OTTAWA – Michael Ignatieff is no longer in a big rush to defeat the Harper government.
The Liberal leader said Tuesday his party won’t support the government should confidence votes arise in the House of Commons.
But he said Liberals will not actively seek to defeat the minority Conservative government by proposing their own confidence motions.
“Look, we’re not propping these guys up any longer. Let someone else do it,” Ignatieff said after an event in which he read to four-year-olds at an Ottawa daycare centre.
“But we’re not in a hurry to bring these guys down. Canadians have said unanimously to all four parties, ‘We don’t want an election.’ So that’s the position.”
Early last month, Ignatieff boldly declared that Harper’s “time is up” and vowed to defeat the Tories at the earliest opportunity. True to his word, Liberals proposed a motion of non-confidence on their first opposition day of the fall parliamentary sitting.
The Tories survived with the help of the NDP, which has pledged to prop up the government at least until Parliament approves a bill to extend employment insurance benefits. That could take months and that seems to suit Ignatieff just fine.
Liberals will have at least three more opposition days before Christmas but Ignatieff signalled Tuesday that they won’t use those days to force confidence votes.
Liberal fortunes have plummeted since Ignatieff began pushing for an election in the face of stiff public opposition. His party has fallen as much as a dozen points behind the Conservatives in opinion polls and Ignatieff’s personal popularity rating has plunged as well.
Moreover, Ignatieff has been plagued by internal party squabbling over its organization in Quebec and complaints about his inexperienced inner circle.
Although an election now seems unlikely before next spring, Ignatieff continued Tuesday to lift the veil slightly on the Liberal campaign platform.
He used the visit to the daycare centre, which ended in a spontaneous group hug from the pre-schoolers, to tout the need for federal funding for early childhood learning.
Ignatieff pledged to resurrect a national child-care and early learning program, although he admitted it might take years before the government, burdened with a $56-billion deficit this year alone, will be able to afford it.
“It’s a clear commitment. If you have commitments you don’t have 20, you have three or four and this is one of them,” he said.
“And then how you phase it in depends on what these (Tory) guys leave in the till and they’ve spent the cupboard bare.”
The previous Liberal government negotiated a national child-care program with the provinces that would have cost the federal treasury $5 billion over five years.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper scrapped the plan upon winning power in 2006, choosing instead to give parents an allowance of $100 a month for each child under age six, to spend on the child-care option of their choice.
Ignatieff said a Liberal government would not rescind the Tory child-care allowances. But he said his willingness to simultaneously create a program to expand available daycare spaces underscores the difference between Liberals and Conservatives.
“They give the families the money. Fine, we’re not going to take that money back,” he said.
“But there aren’t the spaces, right? If you don’t create the spaces, families don’t have a choice. That’s what we’re saying.”