Conservatives have secured May 19 as the day they will most likely defeat the minority government, paving the way for a June 27 election.
One day after the government postponed the Conservatives' opposition day scheduled for today and attempted to push back all the opposition days that had been set for the first three weeks of May, the Tories managed to use a backdoor route to salvage one of them.
On that day, May 19, the Conservatives can bring forward a no-confidence motion.
The firm date, coupled with signals from all three opposition parties that they are willing to defeat the government, suggests the minority Parliament is in its final days.
The Liberals are sliding in the polls amid damaging testimony from the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal, and the opposition parties are hoping to take advantage of that in an election.
The inquiry should be nearly over by May 19, although a final report is not expected until the fall. And a May 19 dissolution of Parliament would still allow an election to be held before the vacation period.
If the government falls that day, the likely election date would be June 27 because campaigns must be at least 36 days long and elections must be held on a Monday. The Liberals, however, would set the length of the campaign, and could make it longer than 36 days.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has said his party will not decide when to bring down the government until after his MPs check the mood in their ridings during next week's break.
But Conservatives across the country said yesterday they believe their constituents are ready for an election and the chances that the vote will be delayed beyond the spring are infinitesimal.
Tory MP Jason Kenney said the Liberal attempt to squeeze the opposition days into June was "unbelievable and unprecedented."
The tactic, he said, would only push his party to bring the government down.
"Mr. Harper has indicated that we are going to continue to consult with Canadians," Mr. Kenney said, "but I have to tell you, if the government persists with this approach, it will be very hard for us not to seek non-confidence at the first opportunity."
The Conservative Leader signalled his intentions to call a spring election yesterday by holding a press conference to announce that Lawrence Cannon, a former Liberal member of the Quebec National Assembly, would run for his party in the western Quebec riding of Pontiac.
"The decision of Lawrence Cannon to join the Conservative Party will help us build a new, clean federalism in the province," said Mr. Harper, who described the Liberal Party as "dead" in Quebec.
Mr. Harper said the Liberals' attempt to delay opportunities for no-confidence motions "is certainly breaking any remaining bits of trust with the only opposition party that has not voted non-confidence in them."
New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton said the Liberals' decision to delay the coming opposition days -- and the fact that Prime Minister Paul Martin was not at Question Period to defend the move -- showed contempt for Parliament and pushed his party closer to voting against the government.
"After the Prime Minister has shut down the democratic process here and [Canadians] learn about that, my guess is there will be more people that are calling for some accountability, perhaps in the form of an election," said Mr. Layton, whose support for a no-confidence motion would help the Conservatives defray allegations that they were working with separatists in the Bloc Québécois.
"When the Prime Minister takes an action like this and slaps the House of Commons in the face, and sends such a negative message to Canadians, abandoning all of his commitments to improve democracy, naturally it reduces dramatically the potential to keep supporting this kind of a situation in the House of Commons."
On Monday, government House Leader Tony Valeri postponed a Conservative opposition day set for today in which the Tories had planned to introduce a motion that would allow opposition parties to decide the timing of their days in May.
Mr. Valeri confirmed yesterday that he had decided not only to postpone today's Conservative opposition day, but to reschedule the weekly opposition days to the end of May or into June.
Mr. Layton, who had earlier expressed doubt his caucus would support a no-confidence motion, says the government's decision has him questioning whether Mr. Martin has the moral authority to govern.
"That authority is disappearing day by day, I must say. After his actions [Monday], it just underlines the point," Mr. Layton told reporters.
So-called "opposition days" allow an opposition party to put forward a motion for debate and a vote, usually the following Tuesday. They are the most obvious avenue to introduce a no-confidence motion and force an election.
The government controls the scheduling of the days. Pushing them back would have forced the opposition to trigger an election that would have to be held in the middle of summer.
But in a procedural counterattack, Conservative House Leader Jay Hill put forward a motion at the Commons committee responsible for House rules that will ensure at least one opposition day, on May 19.
The motion would change the standing orders for opposition days for this year only to make sure that if the government hasn't scheduled one by May 19, there will be one that day. The motion would also ensure that whatever is raised will be voted on that day.
That motion has the support of the New Democrats and the Bloc, and after a lengthy filibuster by the Liberals, the government agreed that it will be put to a vote in committee tomorrow and ultimately to a Commons vote, where it will pass because opposition MPs outnumber the Liberals.
Mr. Valeri confirmed that Mr. Hill's motion will pass because the opposition parties have more votes than the Liberals, but he accused the Conservatives of playing politics with House rules.