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Proceed directly to a confidence vote

Paul Martin's Liberal government has lost the confidence of the House of Commons. The Liberals may dance on the head of a pin to deny that fact. They may, as constitutional experts say they can, argue that yesterday's procedural motion was not a vote of no-confidence. But the inescapable reality is that a majority of voting MPs in the Commons have served notice that they have no confidence in the sitting government and wish an election.

The Liberals may try to construct an artificial universe in which it's business as usual. They may stagger on until opposition days scheduled for later this month, on which the Conservatives may put forward a no-confidence motion. They may even, having postponed earlier opposition days, pull that stunt again and put off this new batch until June. But with each moment they linger, they will expose themselves as so desperate to hang onto power that they spit in the face of the Commons and call it respect.

There is no honour in that. Honour has already fallen victim to embarrassing political posturing. Witness Mr. Martin's on-again, off-again trip to the Netherlands to commemorate the 60th anniversary of V-E Day. He should have done the right thing -- attended the main ceremonies and dared the opposition to defeat his government while he was showing respect for this country's veterans. Instead, he wavered, horse-traded, showed up late.

It is unfortunate that it has come to this. Even with the shocking revelations from the Gomery inquiry, there was no pressing need for an election one year after the vote last June. The country would have been fine if the Liberals had served until Mr. Justice John Gomery brought down his final report. But the Conservatives smell blood, and their separatist ally, the Bloc Québécois, dreams of a near-total sweep of Quebec's seats. The political reality is that this Commons is dead. The only honest course is for the Liberals to recognize that fact, and to take the high road. The high road is for the government to adopt one of three courses: to call an election now, after last night's defeat; to bring forward its own no-confidence motion; or to put its budget-implementation bill to a quick vote.

In any event, quickly is how the Liberals should act. Whatever its high-minded rhetoric about governing for the greater good, and whatever its calculation about how long it can keep a true no-confidence vote at bay, the government is hemorrhaging legitimacy. That's not good for the Commons, it's not good for Canada and, as even the party must realize, it's not good for the Liberals. Give the House an immediate chance to vote confidence or no-confidence in the government.

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