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Canada faces another election; Harper will call 4th vote in 7 years

Canadian opposition parties brought down the Conservative government in a no-confidence vote Friday, triggering an election that polls show the Conservatives will win.

The opposition parties held Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government in contempt of Parliament in a 156-145 vote for failing to disclose the full financial details of his tougher crime legislation, corporate tax cuts and plans to purchase stealth fighter jets.

Opinion polls expect Harper's Conservative Party to win re-election but not a majority, meaning he likely will continue to govern with a minority in Parliament, dependent on opposition votes to stay afloat.

The opposition parties together hold the majority of the seats in Parliament with 160, while the Conservatives have 143.

But in the latest twist, there is a chance the left-of-center parties might join forces in a coalition if Harper wins another minority government on May 2, the expected election date.

Today, Harper will formally inform Governor General David Johnston, Queen Elizabeth's representative as Canada's head of state, that he has lost a confidence vote, and Canada's fourth election campaign in the last seven years will officially start.

"The vote today, which obviously disappoints, will I suspect disappoint most Canadians," Harper said Friday.

Harper might be gambling that an election now will confound conventional wisdom and hand him the majority in Parliament that has eluded him through his five-year tenure as prime minister. He is counting on the economy to help him win re-election.

Canada has outperformed other major industrialized democracies through the financial crisis, recovering almost all jobs lost during the recession while its banking sector remains intact. It avoided a real estate crash, and most economists expect 2010 growth to come in at 3 percent.

"By forcing an unnecessary election in this time of fragile economic recovery, [Liberal leader] Michael Ignatieff and his coalition partners are irresponsibly and recklessly putting at risk Canadians' jobs, our economy and stable government," Harper said.

The opposition tried to form a coalition before, after Harper won minority re-election in 2008. But before he could be defeated in a no-confidence vote, Harper shut down Parliament for three months and successfully whipped up public opposition against the coalition. The Conservatives accused the Liberals of treason for uniting with the Bloc Quebecois, a party that seeks independence for Canada's French-speaking province of Quebec.

Harper's government is now once again trying to marshal public sentiment against a possible coalition government. His underlings attacked the opposition Thursday with accusations they will try to form a coalition if another minority Conservative government is the result of the election.

An election would offer the first opportunity to witness a faceoff between Harper and Ignatieff since Ignatieff took over the Liberal Party in December 2008.

Ignatieff, 63, is one of Canada's leading intellectuals: an author and TV panel regular in Britain before entering politics.

Harper, 51, is a career politician who has spent the last five years emphasizing a more conservative Canadian identity and moving Canada incrementally to the right. He has gradually lowered sales and corporate taxes, increased spending on the military and made Arctic sovereignty a priority.

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