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Senior Liberals signal they're in no rush to force fall election

OTTAWA - Senior Liberals are signalling they're unlikely to use their first opportunity, in early October, to pull the plug on Stephen Harper's minority government.

OTTAWA - Senior Liberals are signalling they're unlikely to use their first opportunity, in early October, to pull the plug on Stephen Harper's minority government.

And while they may well try to force an election later in the fall, the Liberals' national campaign co-chairman says it won't be over the issue of employment insurance reform.

"We're not having an election on EI," said Senator David Smith. "I don't hear Canadians clamouring for an election on this issue."

Conflict between Liberals and Conservatives has been escalating all summer as a bipartisan panel squabbles over potential reforms to the EI program.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff agreed to strike the panel last June as part of an eleventh-hour deal to avert a summer election.

At the time, Harper also agreed to ensure the Liberals get an opposition day in the House of Commons shortly after the EI panel reports and the government issues its third quarterly economic progress report during the week of Sept. 28.

That opposition day, on which the Liberals could move a motion of non-confidence in the government, will be sometime from Oct. 1-7.

Smith suggested Liberals are in no rush to topple the government at the first opportunity.

"I don't think there's a presumption that every time there's an opportunity to have an election that you have to do it. We still want to see Parliament work," he said.

"You can't push the election button every time . . . I think that is irresponsible."

Liberal strategists also note they'll have very little time between Parliament's resumption on Sept. 14 and their first opposition day in which to make the case that they can no longer work with Harper's Conservatives.

Parliament will barely get going again before it breaks the week of Sept. 21 while Harper attends the G20 summit in Pittsburgh.

"I'm not ruling (an early confidence vote) out but if I'm an oddsmaker, I suspect that the odds of landing a few real powerful punches in that short a number of days after a three-month free ride is unlikely," said one top strategist.

"I don't rule it out for a month or so later after you've been going at it for five or six weeks."

Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale said EI reform is only one of four main issues on which his party will assess the need for a fall election.

The others are the government's failure to get infrastructure projects up and running, to resolve the medical isotopes crisis, and to detail a plan for eliminating the massive deficits being racked up.

Those are the same issues Ignatieff identified last June as potential election triggers.

If they were to use their first opposition day to move a confidence motion, Liberals would have little more than two weeks of Commons time to develop those other issues or to inflict much damage on the Tories, who've crept back into a statistical tie with the Liberals in the polls amid the summer doldrums.

While a confidence vote in early October is "possible," Goodale acknowledged the "tight timeframe" will be an issue for Ignatieff as he mulls over when and if to try to defeat the government.

"We'll take that factor into account too because it is important for Parliament to have at least a little time to get its traction back," he said, noting that the government has had "a pretty free ride" over the summer.

Goodale noted the government is bound to provide for a number of opposition days "at fairly regular intervals throughout the fall" - any of which the Liberals could use to defeat the government.

 
 
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