Canadian government likely to be dissolved next week; holiday election looms
TORONTO – Canada’s minority Liberal government on Monday rejected an opposition demand for general elections in February, a move that could topple Prime Minister Paul Martin’s administration and force the first Christmas campaign in 26 years.The country’s three opposition party leaders called on Martin Sunday to agree to dissolve Parliament in January and hold elections the next month or face a no-confidence motion that could bring down his government as early as next week.The opposition says the Liberal Party no longer has the moral authority to lead the nation because of a corruption scandal. An investigative report issued two weeks ago absolved Martin of any wrongdoing, but accused senior Liberal Party members of kickbacks and misspending tens of millions of dollars in public funds.Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper said his party would join with the New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois parties to bring down the government if Martin rejects their demand to go to the polls in early January.If Martin promises in writing to call an election on his own in the first week of January, it would be held in February. Under Canada’s Parliament system, candidates only have 36 days to campaign.Should Martin continue to disagree, Harper has enough opposition votes to bring down the government in a no-confidence motion in Parliament, launching a campaign that would overlap the Christmas-New Year season, although the actual election would likely be in the first two weeks of January.Martin appears prepared to take his chances with a holiday campaign, and blame his opponents for any inconvenience to the predominantly Christian electorate.”If the opposition leaders now decide to vote non-confidence in the government, then that’s their right,” Martin told reporters Monday. “But it will be up to them to explain why they are forcing an election at a time when Canadians least want one.”Opposition leaders made their pitch ahead of a proposal by Finance Minister Ralph Goodale, who on Monday announced a total of $4.5 billion in tax cuts for this fiscal year and $24 billion in tax cuts over six years due to a projected budget surplus.Martin noted that if hounded out of office, Canadians would lose an upcoming $210 rebate on winter fuel costs. He added: “Our soldiers will not receive the pay raises that they so richly deserve.””It would be the opposition parties that would have to explain to Canadians why it is they’re being dragged to the polls during the Christmas holiday,” said House of Commons Leader Tony Valeri.New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton – whose support of Martin’s minority government helped avoid early elections earlier – said he hadn’t received enough assurances that the Liberal Party would crack down on the increased use of private health care in Canada.Martin made a deal with Layton’s leftist party last spring, pledging $3.6 billion in social spending and a promise to delay billions in corporate tax cuts. In return, the New Democrats propped up the Liberals in a confidence motion, providing the support of their 19 members for a House of Commons motion that they survived by a single vote.Martin has promised to call an election within 30 days of the release of the second part of a report into a corruption scandal in his Liberal Party. The document is expected Feb. 1, likely prompting elections in the first week of April.The last time Canadians were forced to deal with politicians and think about national issues over the holidays was in 1979, when Joe Clark’s minority Conservative government was toppled just weeks before Christmas. The vote was delayed until February, however, when Pierre Trudeau and the Liberals took back Parliament.Recent polls have given the Liberals a slight lead over the Conservatives, with the NDP in third. Those same surveys suggest the Bloc would sweep the French-speaking province of Quebec, making a majority government unlikely no matter which party wins the most seats in the 308-member House of Commons.If Martin continues to reject the opposition demand, it likely will introduce a no-confidence motion Nov. 24. It would be voted on Nov. 29, triggering the fall of the Liberals and setting the clock ticking toward a Jan. 9 election.