OTTAWA – Michael Ignatieff turned up the heat on New Democrats Sunday, declaring they’ll soon have to make a choice whether they truly believe or not in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government.
It only adds to the squirm factor for Jack Layton and the NDP, which after years of boasting about not supporting the Tories, found themselves voting in favour of a government ways-and-means motion Friday.
The NDP have said they’ll continue to prop up Harper’s government for the time being because they wanted to see changes to employment insurance, including help for long-tenured workers, get through Parliament.
Ignatieff has offered to speed passage of those amendments, getting them through by early October and just in time for the Liberals to introduce their own non-confidence motion, which could bring down the government.
He denied he was attempting to politically “embarrass Mr. Layton or put people in a corner.”
But Ignatieff said a decision on where they really stand can’t be postponed for very long.
“I think the NDP is going to have to take a clear position on confidence in this government – or not confidence,” he said.
“In our system, the Opposition has to ask the question on behalf of Canadians: Is this government doing a decent job? Yes or no? And we’ve said: no. So we’ve withdrawn confidence. Other parties will have to make their choices.”
The sabre-rattling came on the same day as the Liberals released a new set of pre-election television and online ads focused on creating green jobs.
A spokesman for Layton said the Liberal leader and former Harvard professor has no lessons to teach New Democrats when it comes to deciding where they stand.
“Instead of playing games, Mr. Ignatieff should look at his record,” Karl Belanger said Sunday.
“He propped up Stephen Harper for 79 confidence votes in a row and got nothing in return. The NDP is making Parliament work, trying to get a billion dollars to help the unemployed.”
Parliament is on recess this week and therefore the next opportunity to bring down Harper’s government won’t happen until October at the earliest.
In the meantime, Ignatieff attempted to shift the blame for a possible election, stating it was up to the prime minister to make minority government function by dealing with all parties in the Commons.
He insisted he was only doing his job in opposing the direction the Conservatives had set and downplayed the consequences.
“I’ve tried to behave responsibly and I’ve made my choice,” he said.
“To me, it wasn’t an issue of election – or no election. It was an issue of principle. I’ve got a simple job, which is: Do I support this government – or not? And I just came to the conclusion thy I couldn’t keep on doing it.”
The Liberals took the Conservatives to the brink of an election last spring over the issue of improved employment insurance benefits.
They backed only when the two parties agreed to form a bi-partisan working committee to study reforms.
A spokesman for the prime minister accused Ignatieff of sabotaging that committee by pressing for changes he knew the Tories would never accept.
“The only thing driving Mr. Ignatieff right now in terms of an agenda is having an unnecessary and opportunistic election,” said Dimitri Soudas, Harper’s press secretary.
“What’s peculiar here is that from last January all the way through to last week, the Liberal party supported the government’s actions to fight this recession. Between January and today, nothing has changed in terms of the direction of this government.”