The House condemns the government for its arrogance in refusing to compromise with the opposition parties over the timing of the next general election and for its "culture of entitlement," corruption, scandal and gross abuse of public funds for political purposes and, consequently, the government no longer has the confidence of the House.

--The Canadian House of Commons

November 28, 2005

THOSE WORDS ended the reign of embattled Canadian Liberal party leader Paul Martin over a presumably outraged Canadian electorate. Canada's three opposition parties have now set in motion an unpopular holiday election campaign to determine if voters share their scorn for the administration.

The passage of the no-confidence motion was no surprise--the three opposition parties had made it clear prior to tabling the motion that they would support the dissolution of the Commons and the call for new elections. However, the strong wording of the resolution was a shock. The press had reported earlier that the Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois, and New Democratic party could only agree to generic language which would express little more than the lack of confidence in the executive. But Martin's refusal to consider a compromise election date apparently convinced NDP leader Jack Layton to support a much broader attack on the Liberal government.

THE NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION should surprise no one who read the recent Gomery Inquiry report regarding the kickbacks and money laundering that involved top Liberal politicians and their donors. Indeed, it's a wonder Martin avoided the axe for this long. Now that he has finally called for new elections on January 23, Martin and his party face an enormous political challenge.

How likely is a return of Liberal rule after the Gomery disaster? After twelve years of Liberal control, first as a majority and then as the plurality in the Commons, the Tories bear the burden of convincing Canadians to cross the aisle--and Gomery alone may not be enough to break the Liberal hold on power. Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader, has to convince voters that Tories offer more than just a gainsay of Liberal policies. Harper needs to deliver a "Morning in Canada" agenda, one that promises a transformation for the nation.

So far, Harper doesn't seem up to the task. Obviously uncomfortable with campaigning, his irritation often comes across when he's publicly challenged. Martin has shown that he knows how to push Harper's buttons in the Commons, provoking acidic, and often impolitic, responses from the Tory. This week, instead of remaining focused on curing the "scary" image that the Liberals have hung on Harper, he played to it by accusing Liberals of being complicit in organized crime. For his part, Martin has already pledged to go negative.

OF COURSE, no one expects either party to form a majority government. That gives some power to the two smaller parties, Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic party. Given that millions of dollars--which had been earmarked for cultural programs in Quebec--were stolen from the Sponsorship Programme under Liberal management, the Bloc will likely increase its representation in the next Commons at the expense of Liberals (the Tories do not usually make any kind of showing in Quebec).

The NDP case is more complicated. Party leader Jack Layton is a gifted politician, but his party remains mired in fourth place because of its hard-left socialism. It undermined the case for elections last May, when Layton made a last-minute deal to get a big slice of Canadian taxes for his pet health-care projects, giving Martin the exact numbers he needed to block the attempt to topple the Liberal government when the Gomery testimony first emerged. Layton further damaged his case for elections in recent weeks when he made it known that he would support the Liberals if they agreed to more funding and exclusivity for the state-run medical system. Until Harper finally tabled the no-confidence motion last week, Layton shook down the Martin government for every last cent he could get.

MEDIA POLLS have shown a suspiciously consistent six-point advantage for the Liberals over the Conservatives. Private polling, which used a larger sample size, shows the two major parties in a dead heat at 32 percent each. But even the media polls show trends which don't auger well for Martin's future prospects. The Liberal lead in Ontario--the Liberal power base--has dropped by over half since last spring and now sits at only a 5 percent advantage over the Conservatives. Most of those voters are switching to the NDP, meaning that Jack Layton's party may pick up a few more seats--but at Martin's expense, not Harper's.

And, after signing on to the harsh language in the no-confidence motion, it will be hard for Layton to align himself with Martin after the election. So even if the Liberals managed to get into position to form the next government with the help of the NDP, they would probably have to do so without Martin.

Which means that the table is set for Stephen Harper. He can change the course of Canadian policy and North American politics. If he can convince his fellow countrymen that he has a positive vision for the future of Canada, the voters up north may end 12 years of Liberal rule and give him the opportunity to deliver on it.

Edward Morrissey is a contributing writer to The Daily Standard and a contributor to the blog Captain's Quarters.

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