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Budget could force Canada election

Canadian politics have hit a turbulent patch that may bring down prime minister Stephen Harper this week over corporate tax cuts and alleged abuses of power.

But if an election becomes necessary, Canadians are likely to emerge from it with little changed.

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

The double-trigger that may bring him down is the federal budget to be presented to Parliament, and allegations - supported by a Parliamentary committee - that Mr Harper acted in contempt of the house by failing to disclose the full financial details of his tougher crime legislation, corporate tax cuts and plans to purchase stealth fighter jets.

If the budget is defeated, or a no-confidence vote on the contempt charges gets majority support, Mr Harper will have no choice but to call an election, possibly on May 2.

Mr Harper is riding on the perception that the election is pointless because nothing will change.

"Canadians don't want an election, the country doesn't need an election, the thing that all parties should be focusing on is the Canadian economy," Mr Harper said.

It is the economy that he is counting on to win him re-election. Canada has outperformed other major industrialised democracies through the financial crisis, recovering all jobs lost during the recession while its banking sector remains intact.

It avoided a property crash, and most economists expect 2010 growth to come in at 3%.

But Mr Harper is a centre-right prime minister in a traditionally centre-left country, and his plan to cut corporate tax rates in the new budget has given the opposition, led by the left-leaning Liberals, an opening to argue that Canada, despite its economic successes, is running a record deficit that will only worsen if taxes fall.

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