OTTAWA – In a sharp change of position, the head of Canada's main opposition party said in an interview published on Saturday that he was not keen on trying to trigger an election next year.
The comments by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff mean it is likely the minority Conservative government -- which needs the support of opposition legislators to stay in power -- will be able to push through its budget early next year.
The Liberals were level in the polls with the Conservatives in early September but fell away sharply after Ignatieff said he would try to bring down the government on the grounds that it was mishandling the economy. Prime Minister Stephen Harper accused the Liberals of playing games during a crisis.
"Canadians did not want an election in 2009. I've heard that message 100 percent ... for Canadians it was a year of anguish and economic uncertainty," Ignatieff told the French-language La Presse newspaper.
Asked about an election in 2010, he replied: "I think Canadians are still worried about the economy. They keep telling us 'We've had enough elections. Do your work and leave us in peace'. I think that will continue in 2010."
The Liberals have since recovered some of the lost support but polls indicate that if an election were held now, the result would be a third consecutive Conservative minority government. The party won elections in January 2006 and October 2008.
No one in Harper's office was immediately available for comment. The prime minister was due to head back to Canada on Saturday from climate talks in Copenhagen.
Harper could try to trigger his own defeat over the budget -- expected in late February or early March -- by including policies unacceptable to the three opposition parties, who control a majority of seats in the House of Commons.
But he has repeatedly stressed he has no interest in an election now and wants to focus on the struggling economy.
A senior Liberal told Reuters on Saturday that while an election in 2010 was not Ignatieff's priority, he would look at the budget before deciding whether to support it or not.
Ignatieff, a former journalist and Harvard academic, angered some of his legislators by not consulting them before issuing his election threat in September.
The Conservatives regularly portray Ignatieff as a snob who is out of touch with ordinary Canadians. Ignatieff noted that despite the attacks, the two parties were at the same levels of public support as they had been in the 2008 election.
The Liberals, who have governed Canada for longer than any other party, lost their way after the 2006 election defeat and are finding it hard to come up with a coherent program. The party is due to hold a policy conference in March.
"The priority in 2010 is to create (a) moderate, credible centrist option ... we have a lot of work to do," said Ignatieff.