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Layton proposes February election

Globe and Mail Update

NDP Leader Jack Layton has proposed a federal election call for early January that would result in a vote within weeks of the release of the second Gomery report due back on Feb. 1.

He called the move a "common-sense solution" that would allow Canadians to avoid a Christmas election but doesn't let the Liberal government decide the timing of the ballot.

"Nobody wants a holiday election," he said. "I don't want one. Canadians don't want one and it shouldn't happen."

Mr. Layton said the NDP will introduce a motion to that effect on Nov. 24, its first Opposition day in the House of Commons.

Typically a confidence motion would immediately trigger the fall of the government. However, Mr. Layton said Wednesday that the motion would not be a confidence motion, instead it would push the election call to early January and the actual vote to the middle of February.

There is, however, no guarantee that the opposition could determine the date of the election. The motion would firstly be non-binding. But if the government chose to ignore it and carry on with it's original plan to call an election 30 days after the second Gomery report, it would run the risk of ignoring the will of the majority in Parliament.

However Government House leader Tony Valeri quickly rejected the request yesterday, saying the Prime Minister intends to keep his promise to call an election within 30 days of the release of the second report on the sponsorship program.

If the opposition wants to use procedural moves to defeat the government, then "that will be something the opposition parties will have to explain to Canadians," he said.

"I do find the idea a bit strange. (Mr. Layton) wants to force the Prime Minister to call an election a couple of weeks before the Prime Minister has already promised to call an election. I see this as just more posturing and exactly what Canadians don't want. Canadians are tired of the posturing and the gamesmanship," he said.

While the three opposition parties could force an election through a no-confidence vote, the government can still determine the actual election date. Under Canadian law, there are a minimum number of days allotted for an election campaign, 36, but no set maximum. However, several election campaigns in Canada have run in excess of 60 days.

So, while the opposition parties may lobby for a vote closer to the release of the second Gomery report, there is no guarantee that they could orchestrate it. The Liberals would likely prefer to create as much distance between the release of the report and an election as possible.

"I have every confidence that this is something that can be done," Mr. Layton said. "We would phrase the motion to ensure the results we're seeking would be accomplished."

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper told reporters on Wednesday it was now clear that any agreement between the Liberals and the NDP had fallen by the wayside and he called the NDP proposal "innovative."

"I spoke to Mr. Layton," he said. "He is committed to bring down this government. It's a very innovative proposal that tries to address some of the concerns that we do share about the business of Parliament and the timing of the election."

He said there needs to be some "clarification" on the plan, but added that Mr. Layton has indicated room for further discussions.

Likewise, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe said he would like see what Mr. Layton is proposing during a meeting with the other opposition leaders on Sunday or Monday, to determine whether the Bloc would support the motion.

"I want to see what the proposal is, and I'll decide based on what it says," Mr. Duceppe said during a press conference Wednesday.

"We are not the ones that will determine the date. It's up to the government to do that," he added.

Talk of a holiday election emerged this week when Mr. Layton announced that the NDP would no longer support the minority Liberals in the House because of a rift in health-care policies.

Other Opposition parties have been pressing for an early election call, citing the findings of Justice John Gomery in his probe of the federal sponsorship scandal.

But no party has said specifically that it would bring forward a confidence vote in the house designed to topple the government.

Without a specific confidence vote, the Liberal minority likely would have faced its biggest test on Dec. 8, when it puts its supplementary spending estimates before the House. If the Opposition banded together to vote down those estimates, the government would fall. That scenario would have likely resulted in a Jan. 16 election, with campaigning running through the holiday season.

The last time a federal election conflicted with the holidays was in 1979. The thorny issue of timing for the NDP was further complicated by the fact that their Nov. 24 opposition day in Parliament coincided with the start of a key aboriginal summit. If a traditional confidence vote was introduced that day, it ran the risk of derailing that conference.

Speaking in Toronto, Mr. Martin said he didn't understand the current rush for an election. Mr. Martin has promised to call an election within 30 days of the release of the final report from Judge Gomery on the sponsorship scandal. That report is due in February.

He also said Canadians don't want a Christmas election.

"You know, they want to see Santa Claus, they don't want to see politicians," Mr. Martin said.

With files from reporter Bill Curry

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