The careers of Canada's major political party leaders are on the line with Stephen Harper's minority government set to fall Friday on a vote that will see his opposition rivals declare him in contempt of Parliament.
This defeat will pave the way for a spring election likely to take place May 2 or 9, depending on how long a campaign the Conservative Leader favours.
It will be the fourth federal election in less than seven years for Canada, where no party has been able to obtain anything but a minority-government mandate from voters since 2004.
Tory cabinet ministers, seeking to exploit the fact that the opposition has already rejected their budget, fanned out across the country Wednesday to showcase the spending plans that an election would jeopardize.
The Liberals, Bloc Québécois and NDP were unmoved, however, and began preparing for a vote Friday that will spell the end of Canada's 40th Parliament and help them cast the five-and-half-year-old Harper government as a regime that has abused its power.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff announced his party will move a motion of no confidence Friday afternoon, one that will declare the government to be in contempt of Parliament for withholding information on the Tory tough-on-crime agenda and the purchase of F-35 fighters.
The NDP and the Bloc, together with the Liberals, comprise a majority in the Commons. They have agreed to back the motion that concludes the Conservatives are "in contempt of Parliament, which is unprecedented in Canadian Parliamentary history, and, consequently, that the House has lost confidence in the government."
Federal parties began warming up the engines on campaign machines for a political battle that is likely to start as early as Saturday or Sunday.
The Conservatives have a jet ready to go within 48 hours notice, the NDP Wednesday unveiled campaign buses wrapped with images of Leader Jack Layton and has requested its plane be prepared to take off as early as Friday.
The Liberals launched a new Facebook campaign to build online support for their party and showcase a series of video profiles of Mr. Ignatieff. The Bloc has readied a TV and radio advertising campaign to proceed within days of the writ dropping.
The coming confidence vote will take place Friday afternoon and its passage will mark the official defeat of the Harper government, which last won power in October, 2008.
It's not clear how long Mr. Harper will take before going to Rideau Hall to ask Governor-General David Johnston to dissolve Parliament and drop the writ - but he is expected to do so as early as Saturday.
The Tories are expected to frame the election as a decision on who is the better economic manager and more competent to guide Canada's recovery from recession.
They have previously warned that if they aren't handed a majority, the opposition parties will form a coalition to oust them from power, a turn of events the Conservatives argue would jeopardize the economy.
Shortly after the 2008 election, Liberals and New Democrats struck a deal to take over from Mr. Harper in a coalition government with the support of the Bloc. The parties later abandoned the plan after the Liberals cooled to it.
Mr. Ignatieff dodged questions Wednesday about whether he would be willing to form a coalition with the NDP should the Conservatives be returned to power with another minority.
"There's the red door and there's the blue door; these are the only two choices," Mr. Ignatieff said, but then declined to explicitly rule out a coalition.
Mr. Layton, however, suggested he is not opposed to the idea, telling reporters that Mr. Harper had entertained similar thoughts in 2004 as Tory opposition leader when Liberal chief Paul Martin was returned to power as a the leader of a minority government.
Mr. Duceppe said the Bloc is open to supporting a Liberal-NDP coalition but would not be a formal partner.
Tempers frayed in the Commons Wednesday as parties sparred over an opposition-dominated committee's move this week to declare the Harper government in contempt of Parliament for stonewalling on the full costs of its agenda. This verdict followed a historic rebuke March 9 by Commons Speaker Peter Milliken over the matter.
A Conservative MP went so far as to accuse Mr. Milliken of bias in the affair, suggesting that because the Parliamentary referee was also a Liberal MP he was not impartial in his judgment.
Blaine Calkins, an Alberta Tory MP, complained that his constituents see the proceedings, controlled by opposition parties, as a sham - including the fact that decisions were made by "a Speaker who is elected as one of the members of these parties."
Gordon O'Connor, the Tory government whip, quickly rose to beat back accusations the Conservatives were impugning Mr. Milliken.
Text of the Liberal no-confidence motion
The text of the Liberal no-confidence motion, which is to come to a vote on Friday:
That the House agrees with the finding of the standing committee on procedure and House affairs that the government is in contempt of Parliament, which is unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history, and consequently, the House has lost confidence in the government.
The Canadian Press
Weary of elections? It's been worse
Election fatigue may be setting in as the country heads to its fifth federal campaign in just over 10 years, but it's been worse.
The political turmoil that has produced three minority governments in a row since 2004 isn't as bad as what rocked Canada 50 years go.
Between 1957 and 1968, the country went through six elections and four minority governments.
The string went like this:
- June 10, 1957, Conservative minority
- March 31, 1958, Conservative majority
- June 18, 1962, Conservative minority
- April 8, 1963, Liberal minority
- Nov. 8, 1965, Liberal minority
- June 6, 1968, Liberal majority
The most recent results:
- Nov. 27, 2000, Liberal majority
- June 28, 2004, Liberal minority
- Jan. 23, 2006, Conservative minority
- Oct. 14, 2008, Conservative minority
The Canadian Press