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Martin won't ‘play politics'

Globe and Mail Update

Prime Minister Paul Martin insisted Thursday his focus remains squarely on governing despite mounting efforts by Opposition parties to force an election early in the new year.

"I'm going to govern and I'll let the opposition play politics," Mr. Martin told reporters after speaking to reporters at a Bellville, Ont., high school.

A day earlier, NDP Leader Jack Layton said his party would introduce a Nov. 24 motion in the House of Commons calling on the government to call an election early next year for a February vote.

The move was designed to avoid the unpopular idea of a holiday election campaign while still preventing Mr. Martin's minority Liberals from dictating the timing of the next election. The proposal, while raising the eyebrows of political experts, was welcomed by both Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe.

Such a motion, however, would not be legally binding — because it's not a confidence motion — on the government and the Liberals have already said they won't act on it.

Speaking with reporters Thursday, Mr. Martin said he wouldn't let talk of an opposition motion aimed at triggering a snap election derail the government's current efforts in areas like addressing aboriginal issues, maintaining Canada's position on the softwood lumber dispute or seeking to ease hospital waiting times.

"This is a matter between the [opposition] house leaders," Mr. Martin said.

"I'm sure that they will be discussing it. As far as I'm concerned, we were elected to govern. We have a very ambitious agenda that we want to complete, beginning with some of the questions that were asked here today."

The prospect of a winter election emerged early this week when Mr. Layton announced the NDP would pull its support for the minority Liberals because of a rift over health-care policies.

Both Mr. Harper and Mr. Duceppe have said they are ready to see the Liberal government fall in the wake of Mr. Justice John Gomery's report last week on the federal sponsorship scandal. But none of the parties have committed to bringing in a specific no-confidence motion that would trigger the government's immediate downfall.

All three opposition leaders are scheduled to meet within a few days to discuss Mr. Layton's proposal.

Mr. Martin has vowed to call an election within 30 days of the release of Judge Gomery's final report on the sponsorship scandal. That report is due in February. Last week, the judge issued his first report on the affair, which exonerated Mr. Martin of any responsibility but offered harsh criticism of the Liberals and former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

Speaking in Winnipeg on Thursday, Mr. Harper told an audience that the election is "closer today than it was a couple of days ago."

"I think it's important that the Liberal Party really assess what is going on here," he said.

He also questioned the Liberals' plan to table its economic update on Monday, calling it the government's "third budget in less than a year."

Tory finance critic Monte Solberg is urging his fellow MPs to block the government from presenting the mini-budget at the finance committee Monday.

Mr. Solberg says the document — updating the government's fiscal plans and economic forecast — is nothing but electioneering.

But Liberals say if Mr. Solberg's is successful, Mr. Goodale could simply deliver his statement to the House of Commons or in a press conference.

It's widely expected that Mr. Goodale will pledge business and middle-class income tax cuts in the update.

The Liberal government, Mr. Harper said, should realize that "because of the parliamentary situation and because, more importantly, it has been named in a judicial inquiry on corruption, it no longer has either the democratic mandate or the moral authority to recklessly promise and spend taxpayers' money in this country."

Speaking with reporters later, he admitted there are limits to what the Opposition parties can do constitutionally force the government to do but said a united Opposition is not without strength either.

"A united Opposition with the majority of votes can do a lot to the future unfolding of events in the House of Commons," he said.

He wouldn't discuss specifics of how the Opposition parties will proceed until the leaders of those parties meet in a few days.

"I'm not going to discuss process until I sit down with Mr. Layton and get a better understanding of some of the elements of his proposal and how we can clarify this," he said.

With a report from the Canadian Press

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