Prime Minister Paul Martin has rejected an Opposition ultimatum demanding that the government either call an election for early next year or face the prospect a confidence vote, calling the proposal “untenable” and decrying the “endless gamesmanship” that continues dominate Parliament.
“The opposition leaders are proposing in effect to remove the government from office but without triggering an election,” Mr. Martin said Monday in an address in the foyer of the House of Commons just hours before the release of his government's so-called mini-budget.
“In our system of parliament, you don't get to vote no but yes for now. There is no such thing as non-confidence-light.”
The comments came just hours before Finance Minister Ralph Goodale was to deliver the Liberals' economic update, which has been criticized by the Opposition as little more than a thinly veiled campaign plank. The update is expected to include billions in tax cuts for individuals and corporations.
On the weekend, the leaders of Canada's three opposition parties announced that they would introduce a motion in the House of Commons this week demanding the government to call an election at the start of January for a February ballot.
The idea was to take the timing of the election out of the Liberals' hands without sending Canadians to the polls over the holidays.
The Opposition also said, however, that if the government refused the first option, they would band together to propose a no-confidence motion to bring the government down within weeks.
“If the leaders of the Opposition parties decide to withdraw their trust in government, that's their right,” Mr. Martin said.
“It will be up to them to explain why they have taken the measures they have taken at a time when Canadians want none of it.
"It will be up to them to explain why with only an eight-week time frame they are putting an end to this parliament, this gesture will cost a lot of money to Canadian taxpayers.”
This spring, in response to fallout from the inquiry into the federal sponsorship scandal, Mr. Martin vowed to call an election within 30 days of the release of the final report by Mr. Justice John Gomery, due at the start of February.
In his first report, released earlier this month, Judge Gomery exonerated Mr. Martin of any blame in the scandal but offered harsh words for the Liberal Party and former prime minister Jean Chrétien.
Responding to Mr. Martin's comments, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Monday it is “necessary” to defeat the Liberal government in light of the findings of the Gomery commission. He would not say how quickly a confidence motion would be introduced, adding that he wanted to wait to see if the NDP motion – calling for a January election call for a February election – could be introduced this week.
“It is necessary for us to defeat this government, to have an election, to settle this issue,” Mr. Harper said.
“Prior to all this, of course, Mr. Layton has made a proposal to settle some of the matters in abeyance to give certain benefits to Canadians.
“We are ready and willing to respect this commitment if the Prime Minister is ready and willing to work with us to ensure that this happen.”
Mr. Martin, however, described that proposal as “untenable,” saying the Opposition cannot have it both ways.
“Government cannot govern without the confidence of the House, and you either have it or you don't,” Mr. Martin said.
“There's no provision in either our parliamentary tradition or in common sense to the kind of plan that the opposition seeks to concoct.”
He also said, if Opposition leaders decide to bring down the government, they will be killing legislation aimed at offering energy rebates, increases in seniors' pension and support for ranchers hit by the mad-cow crisis.
He also decried continued talk of a snap election as “endless gamesmanship and manoeuvring” that has dominated the business of Parliament for much of the year.
“That's not the way it ought to be, and it's not fair to you,” he said, speaking directly to Canadians.
“You go to work every day, you show up and you do your job, and you expect the same from people you send to Ottawa. That's the minimum you expect, but you're not getting it.”
“Instead the spring was all about the opposition trying to force an election and now the fall is all about the opposition trying to force an election even though one is already planned and has for months been planned for early next year.”
A tense political showdown has been played out for much of the day.
Early Monday, questions again emerged about whether the Opposition might try to prevent Mr. Goodale from tabling his so-called mini-budget.
“Obviously we don't want to show our hand and give [Finance Minister Ralph] Goodale any more notice of what may or may not transpire,” Conservative House Leader Jay Hill told globeandmail.com.
“It's never a good thing in these sort of procedural wranglings to show your hand. So we're keeping our options open.”
Also on Monday, members of Canada's aboriginal community called on Opposition leaders to put off plans to trigger an election, arguing it could derail a two-day first ministers conference on aboriginal affairs scheduled to begin on Nov. 24.
“This is a non-partisan declaration,” Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine said.
“I can only speak to first-nations citizens, but it is clear we all want to make progress to turn poverty into prosperity and to build a stronger federation. The well-being of our citizens living on reserves and those moving away from their communities should be above partisan politics.”