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Embattled PM tries to buy time; Harper calls it "sad spectacle" 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 8:50 p.m. April 21, 2005]

Prime Minister Paul Martin delivers a special address to the nation on Thursday evening. 

OTTAWA  — With his fragile minority government dropping in the polls and facing an election within weeks, Prime Minister Paul Martin went to the people Thursday in a nationally televised address from his office. 

Martin promised to call an election within 30 days after Justice John Gomery files his report into Adscam. The report is due in December.

"I commit to you tonight that I will call a general election within 30 days of the publication of the commission's final report and recommendations," the PM said in his taped address.

"Let Judge Gomery do his work. Let the facts come out. And then the people of Canada will have their say."

Martin's commitment, however, is rather hollow, as it is likely the Conservative Party with the aid of one or more of the opposition parties will pass a motion of non-confidence in the House of Commons. 

Also there exists the possibility that Gomery may never file his report if Martin's predecessor, former prime minister Jean Chretien, is successful in his attempt to have Gomery ousted. The federal court will hold hearings into Chretien's allegations of bias against Gomery in early June. 

The Conservative Party is at its highest level in the polls since the 1980s and the Bloc Quebecois is destined to deliver heavy damaged to the Liberal party in Quebec. 

Both parties' fortunes have been fuelled by revelations of the Liberal party officials receiving kickbacks and other forms of corruption surrounding government contracts. 

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper offered little sympathy for Martin's argument for waiting for Gomery to complete his work.

"We have all just witnessed a sad spectacle - a prime minister so burdened with corruption in his own party that he is unable to do his job and lead the country, a party leader playing for time, begging for another chance," said Harper in a live address from the foyer in of the House of Commons. 

"This is not how a prime minister should act."

With Martin's fate and his future no longer in his hands, the golden boy of the Liberal party touted as a future prime minister as early as 1984 used the public airwaves to essentially save his own political career from the wrath of angry voters. 

Other than setting a date for a future election down the road, Martin offered little in new information in his address.

The address appeared to serve two purposes - distract the media for a few days from the damaging news stories emanating from Ottawa and Montreal this week suggesting a deepening and widening level of corruption and cronyism and to set a defensive position for a likely spring election campaign the Liberals are reluctant to enter.

While Harper delivered a scathing attack of the Liberal government and what he views as the hypocrisy of Martin wanting to wait for Gomery before an election, when Martin himself called an election last spring before Gomery even began to hear from witnesses, NDP Leader Jack Layton used part of his time to broker a deal with the Liberals.

"We want to help get a balanced budget passed," Layton said near the close of his speech. 

"So I say to Paul Martin: Bring the budget to a vote, take out the surprise corporate tax cuts and invest that money in things people want. The NDP is in no rush to judge on the scandal. But we are in a rush to get something done through getting a better budget passed." 

Meanwhile, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe spoke primarily in French, but included brief English-language comments in which he said the scandal is a Liberal scandal, not a Quebec scandal. 

After months in question period not directly answering questions from the opposition about the scandal, Martin offered some remorse and contrition for the first time since his Mad as Hell Tour last year. 

"I was the Minister of Finance," he said of his role during the sponsorship program. "Knowing what I've learned this past year, I am sorry that we weren't more vigilant - that I wasn't more vigilant."

However, Martin was less frank in describing the true nature of the scandal which has heard testimony about Liberal party officials accepting cash bribes in restaurants from ad man in return for lucrative sponsorship contracts that were often for little or no work at all.

"Public money was misdirected and misused," Martin said. "That's unacceptable. And that is why I apologized to the Canadian people a year ago."

If Martin does lose the election and steps down as Liberal leader, his speech will likely be remembered in the future for a few lines he made near the end of it on Thursday night.

"In closing, let me say this: there are people who think I was wrong to call this inquiry, wrong to expose my government to the political cost of the scrutiny that has ensued. They warn we will pay a price in the next election. And perhaps we will. 

"But I trust your judgment. And I will not dishonour this office by trying to conceal or diminish such offensive wrongdoing. I have too much respect for this place. "

: Related Links

> Prime Minister's Address
> Stephen Harper's response

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