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Queen Elizabeth in Canada amid political firestorm
Updated: 2005-05-18 10:15

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Canada at the start of a nine day tour, but she may be forced to cut her trip short should Prime Minister Paul Martin's embattled government fall later this week.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Canada at the start of a nine day tour, but she may be forced to cut her trip short should Prime Minister Paul Martin's embattled government fall later this week. [AFP]
During the trip the queen and her consort Prince Philip will celebrate the entry of two provinces into confederation 100 years ago, but their visit also comes two days before Martin's Liberals face a confidence vote in the House of Commons.

Eagerly awaited by a multitude of royal watchers, the queen, as head of state, must remain detached and not be seen as interfering in Canadian politics during an election.

Even being seen with a politician after a writ is dropped would be considered improper.

Despite Martin's best efforts to put off going to the polls until the end of the year, it is still not clear whether the government will pass its budget on Thursday and hold onto power.

The opposition, which has already begun running election-style ads, accused the prime minister of using the queen's visit to justify delaying a confidence vote.

Martin has said he felt the queen's visit should proceed regardless.

Late Tuesday, the prime minister met the queen as her plane touched down in Saskatchewan -- but not before he threw a wrench into the opposition's plans to bring down his government.

He announced the defection of a rising Conservative star to the Liberal party: billionaire heiress Belinda Stronach, who entered politics only a year ago.

The defection Tuesday of Stronach, who has been named human resources and skills development minister, comes as coup for Martin.

Stronach, who made an earlier failed bid for the Conservative leadership, will also implement the recommendations of a judicial inquiry into corruption allegations against the government.

One extra vote, however, may not be enough to hold off Conservatives clawing at the gates, eager for their chance to govern.

Together, the Liberals and their New Democratic Party allies now have 151 votes in Parliament, while the Conservatives and the separatist Bloc Quebecois have 152 members.

Political pundits have speculated that two more Conservatives from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador may cross the floor of the House to join the Liberals, but both MPs have denied it.

The premier of the province, also a Conservative, urged them to jump ship to save a deal with the Liberals that would allow the island province to keep millions of dollars in offshore oil revenues, but they refused.

The fate of Martin's government still rests with three independent MPs, only one of whom has so far committed to support the Liberals. The speaker of the House, who is a Liberal, would vote to break a tie.

As for the royal visit, the 79-year-old British sovereign is scheduled to meet with Canadian aboriginal leaders at a local university late Tuesday and have lunch with the premier of Saskatchewan Wednesday.

Neither she nor the Canadian government would reveal whether she would return home Friday morning if an election is called, or if she would break with tradition.

Canadians are divided in their support for the monarchy. Some would like to see Canada become a republic, yet Queen Elizabeth attracts large, jubilant crowds whenever she visits.

Canadians are mostly united, however, in their wish not to have a summer election.

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