Canadian Press Prime Minister Paul Martin, trying to maintain a business-as-usual attitude in the face of the sponsorship scandal, has set Tuesday, May 24 as the date for a by-election to fill a vacant Commons seat in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The announcement by Martin's office on Sunday came a little more than four months after the death of Liberal Lawrence O'Brien left the riding of Labrador without an MP.
By law, the prime minister had six months to set a date to fill the seat, but he chose to act before the deadline.
Martin spokesman Marc Roy said the Liberals are determined to carry on with the job of running the country, despite speculation that the opposition could try to orchestrate a vote of confidence in the House later this spring.
“We're proceeding (with the by-election) like we're proceeding with every file,” Mr. Roy said. “We're continuing to govern, we have a mandate to govern. Filling a vacancy is one of those things.”
Opinion polls have shown Liberal support plunging across the country and the Conservatives on the rise in the wake of the latest revelations at the sponsorship inquiry headed by Justice John Gomery.
If Martin's minority government falls between now and May 24, the byelection would be cancelled and replaced by a general election.
The Liberals currently have 132 MPs, compared to 99 for the Conservatives, 54 for the Bloc Quebecois and 19 for the NDP. There are three Independents in the 308-seat Commons, plus the vacancy left by Mr. O'Brien.