- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

TORONTO — A corruption scandal forced a parliamentary vote of no-confidence yesterday that toppled Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin’s minority government, triggering an unusual winter election campaign.

Canada’s three opposition parties, which control a majority in Parliament, voted against Mr. Martin’s government, saying his Liberal Party no longer has the moral authority to lead the nation.

The loss means an election for all 308 seats in the lower House of Commons, likely Jan. 23. Mr. Martin and his Cabinet would continue to govern until then.

Opposition leaders last week called for the no-confidence vote after Mr. Martin rejected their demands to dissolve Parliament in January and hold early elections in February.

The vote yesterday follows a flurry of spending announcements in Ottawa last week, with the government trying to advance its agenda ahead of its demise.

Mr. Martin is expected to dissolve the House of Commons today and set a date for the elections. Under Canadian law, elections must be held on a Monday — unless it falls on a holiday — and the campaign period is sharply restricted.

“The vote in the House of Commons did not go our way,” Mr. Martin said. “But the decision of the future of our government will be made by Canadians. They will judge us.”

Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper joined the New Democratic and Bloc Quebecois parties to bring down the government, prompting the first Christmas and winter campaign in mostly Christian Canada in 26 years.

Recent polls have given the Liberals a slight lead over the Conservatives, with the New Democrats in third place.

The surveys suggest the Bloc Quebecois would sweep the French-speaking province of Quebec, making a majority government unlikely, no matter which party wins the most seats.

Mr. Harper would become prime minister if the Conservatives receive the most seats in Parliament. He favors tax cuts and opposed Mr. Martin’s successful bill to legalize same-sex “marriage” throughout Canada.

Mr. Martin has had frosty relations with the White House, standing by the Liberal Party decision not to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He also declined to join in Washington’s continental ballistic missile shield program, infuriating the Bush administration, and has harshly criticized high U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber.

Canada’s Conservatives, by contrast, are seen as much more receptive to improving relations with Washington, though a majority of Canadians opposed the war in Iraq and President Bush’s policies.

“This is not just the end of a tired, directionless, scandal-plagued government,” Mr. Harper said after the vote. “It’s the start of a bright new future for this country.”

The opposition is banking on the public’s disgust with a corruption scandal involving the misuse of funds targeted for a national unity program in Quebec.

An initial investigation absolved Mr. Martin of wrongdoing but accused senior Liberal members of taking kickbacks and misspending tens of millions of dollars in public funds.

The government ran into peril this month when it lost the support of the New Democratic Party, whose backing earlier this year helped Mr. Martin escape a previous no-confidence motion by a single vote.

Jack Layton, leader of the New Democrats, said he had not received enough assurances that the Liberal Party would fight the increased use of private health care in Canada.

Mr. Martin appears prepared to take his chances with a holiday campaign and blamed his opponents for any inconvenience to the predominantly Christian electorate.

The prime minister had promised to call an election within 30 days of the release of a follow-up report on the corruption scandal. The document is expected Feb. 1, which would have meant elections in the first week of April, a time that suits Canadians better than the bitterly cold and busy holiday season.

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