Stephen Harper and Jack Layton say there's still time to prevent a fall election, but the two men who led their parties in the past three election campaigns are ruling out a backroom deal to stop them from having to square off a fourth time this fall.
The New Democratic Party Leader emerged from a summer vacation in Nova Scotia Thursday, commenting for the first time since Michael Ignatieff's Liberals vowed this week to defeat the government at the first opportunity.
Mr. Layton called on the Prime Minister to stop governing as if he had a majority. He said the Conservatives can avoid defeat by endorsing NDP proposals on pensions, employment insurance and credit-card rules.
"I'm not making any backroom deals with the Prime Minister," Mr. Layton said. "There's nothing strange, or behind the scenes involved here. I'm simply suggesting that the decision about whether there's an election is the Prime Minister's decision."
Mr. Harper expressed frustration at the opposition's tactics, accusing the Liberals in particular of playing games while his government is focused on the economy.
"If other parties have useful ideas, good, effective, affordable ideas on the economy, let us see what they are and we'll take a look at them," he said. "But we will not be doing backroom deals."
Mr. Harper said the public didn't like it when the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois struck a deal last year to work together. "I don't want to get into that kind of game," he said.
Earlier in the year, the NDP boasted of its consistency in voting against the Conservatives in confidence matters. New Democratic MPs have openly mocked the Liberals for keeping the Tories in power. They held an event with cake and candles to mark the 50th time the Liberals voted with the Conservatives.
But the NDP insists supporting the government for policy concessions would be different than what the Liberals have been doing.
Fighting an election this fall would be a financial challenge for the New Democrats, who are having a hard time raising money this year.
For the first half of 2009, the party raised $1.3-million, in contrast to $5.7-million for the Liberals and $8.3-million for the Conservatives. The party has secured the credit required to spend the maximum allowed in the next election, but it has yet to pay off its debt from the 2008 campaign.
Also, the NDP's support nationally has not budged significantly from the levels it reached in the past two campaigns.
According to Judy Rebick, a social activist and author, Mr. Layton correctly took advantage of a moment this week to bring attention to the party's priorities. However, she said it would take major concessions for the party to support the Conservatives. "The NDP base would have a hard time watching the NDP prop up the Tory government under any circumstances," she said.
Mr. Layton needs to shake up his message if the NDP is going to make any gains in the next campaign, she added, proposing an agreement with the Green Party of Canada.
"He won't make an alliance with the one party that agrees with him," Ms. Rebick said. "That, to me, would show people that the NDP are trying to do something differently, if they reached out to the Greens and said, 'Look, we have very similar policy platforms. ... Let's run together on it.' "
Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May said her party isn't looking to merge, but does believe more co-operation is needed to curb the partisanship that is at the root of Canada's unstable Parliament.
"I think a lot of NDPers feel the way Judy feels," Ms. May said. "We'd like to co-operate with everyone, because that's the best way to get things done."
With reports from Steven Chase and Daniel Leblanc