The Canadian government is expected to lose a no-confidence vote this afternoon, triggering a winter election for the first time in a quarter of a century. The stakes are pretty high for the minority ruling Liberal party headed by Prime Minister Paul Martin.
Following constitutional tradition, Mr. Martin will formally inform Governor-General Michaëlle Jean before the next scheduled sitting of the Commons — tomorrow at 10 a.m. — that he lost a confidence vote. He will ask her to issue election writs for all 308 ridings.
When Mr. Martin emerges from this private Rideau Hall ritual, Liberal sources say he will announce the election date is Jan. 23 and the first winter campaign in a quarter-century will be under way.
Voters can expect a pause in campaigning for an unusual eight- to 10-day stretch around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, officials for all the parties said yesterday, although there has been no formal agreement.
Jan. 23 would mean a 56-day election campaign, one of the longest in recent Canadian history.
The likely tone of the campaign has been set by weeks of acrimonious debate in the House. The Conservatives, Bloc Québécois and New Democrats accused the Liberals of greed and corruption, and the Liberals charged the opposition parties of blatant political opportunism that blocked important public business.
The most recent public-opinion polls suggest that if the vote were held now the next Parliament would look a lot like the one that is about to pass into history. Going into the campaign, the chance of another minority government looms large.
The stakes are high for both Mr. Martin and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
If Mr. Martin falls short of a majority again, there will be Liberals who will begin to question whether he should be allowed to remain as leader for a third campaign.
If Mr. Harper fails to show growth in Ontario, many Tories will want to revisit their party’s leadership.
I watched some of the debate in Parliament over the no-confidence motion via C-SPAN. I must say for all the well-deserved reputation the Canadians have for being friendly and polite, they can, like their British counterparts, get pretty wound up in the House of Commons during their debates, although it’s leavened with that dry Canadian sense of humor.
We Americans could learn something from them — the first of which would be the idea that an election campaign that lasts 56 days is considered to be long.