The Conservatives, led by Harper, boosted their minority leadership in an October 14 election but the party faces a vote of confidence in parliament on Monday.

The opposition Liberals and New Democrats have agreed a deal to vote against the Conservatives and form a coalition government.

They say that Harper has failed to be an effective leader and say that fiscal measures taken by the government are not doing enough to keep the Canadian economy secure amid the global financial crisis.

The two parties are supported by the Bloc Quebecois, which is seeking independence for the French-speaking region of Quebec.

Unprecedented step

Harper is the first Canadian prime minister to ask for a suspension of parliament in order to prevent a confidence vote.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion had hoped
to become prime minister [Reuters]
Stephane Dion, leader of the Liberals, said on Thursday that the opposition will maintain efforts to force Harper from office if he does not address their concerns over the country's economy.

“For the first time in the history of Canada the prime minister is running away from the parliament of Canada," Dion said after the parliamentary suspension was agreed to.

Jack Layton, leader of the New Democrats, said that Harper's appeal for a suspension of parliament was designed to protect his position.

"He's trying to lock the door of Parliament so that the elected people cannot speak …He's trying to save his job," he said.

In a television interview on Wednesday, Harper said that the deal reached between the Liberals and New Democrats would only promote division.

"At a time like this, a coalition with separatists cannot help Canada," Harper said.

Some Conservative politicians have accused the opposition of trying to stage a coup, but the opposition says that its action is needed to promote national stability.

"This is the worst time for Canada that I have seen," Thomas Mulcair, a New Democrat parliamentarian, said.

Many Canadians have expressed unease at Bloc Quebecois' support for the opposition parties, while other citizens say that the Conservatives have failed to lead effectively, creating a power vacuum.

"Whether he contrives an exit from his immediate travails over the confidence vote, the Harper era appears to be approaching the end. But before that happens, there is a danger Canadian unity will be harmed," the Globe and Mail newspaper said in an editorial on Thursday.

If Harper remains in office until late January, the first confidence vote on the budget would be in early February.