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Martin government defeated

[PoliticsWatch Updated 8:30 p.m. November 28, 2005]

OTTAWA  — Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority government was defeated Monday evening in the first ever straight vote of non-confidence in Canadian history. 

The three opposition parties used their majority to defeat the government by a vote of 171 to 133. 

Martin's government survived numerous confidence tests in the spring, but finally fell after NDP Leader Jack Layton joined forces with the Bloc Quebecois and the Conservatives.  

Martin will visit Governor General Michaelle Jean Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. ET where he will dissolve Parliament and set an election date. Reuters and Canadian Press are both reporting that date will be Monday, January 23. 

The defeat of the government ended an acrimonious session of Parliament and has set in motion what is expected to be the most unpleasant election in recent memory.

Both Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and Martin walked out of the House of Commons Monday evening for perhaps the final time as being in near full control of their parties. 

If the election ends with a Liberal majority or minority then Harper most likely is finished.

Martin will likely lose control of his party if the Conservatives win a minority. And second minority government for the Liberals would likely hasten calls for the departure of the man who told reporters in his first week in office that he would like to be prime minister for 10 years. 

But that was before the sponsorship scandal when Martin and the Liberals were polling in the high 40s. 

Pre-election polling showed the Liberals with a slight lead over the Conservatives, but not enough national popularity to cross the 40 per cent mark likely needed to win a majority. Sitting government's tend to drop in the polls after the writ is dropped. 

After the vote, Martin spoke to a rowdy meeting of the Liberal caucus on Parliament Hill with reporters standing in the back of the room.  

Martin appeared in high spirits after losing the vote and pumped his fist in the air with a broad smile on his face as he received a three-minute long standing ovation from his caucus.

"I just want to say a few brief words to you all before you head back to your ridings to get fitted for snowshoes," he said.

"All of us, we have a lot to be proud of and I can't tell you how proud I am of you," he said to the caucus before receiving one of the dozen standing ovations. "You have made the Liberal party proud, you have made Canadians proud and I am very proud of all of you."

He began by reminding his caucus of the Liberal track record, focusing on social spending and Canada's strong economy, before launching an attack on Harper and the Conservatives. 

"The Canada that is imagined by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives is starkly different from the Canada that we want to build," Martin said. 

"Stephen Harper sees no positive role for government, not in improving the lives of Canadians, not even for standing up for Canada."

He accused Harper of being "silent" while Martin waged a battle with the U.S. on softwood lumber and suggested Harper was soft on separatists. 

"Let me tell you something, Stephen Harper: You made an alliance with the Bloc, not me, and I will never shy away from defending our country."

While Martin made the speech, across the hall on Parliament Hill Harper was in another room filled with Tory MPs, Hill staffers and reporters.

As he stood on stage with a number of the younger, ethnically diverse, telegenic members of his caucus, he warned them that Martin and the Liberals have already planned "to come after us."

In the 2004 federal election, Martin surged ahead of the Conservatives in the polls after campaigning negatively against the Tories and putting doubts in voters' minds by repeatedly claiming Harper had a "hidden agenda" for the country. 

"Canadians have seen this movie before," Harper said. "They know when the Liberals scream about us it's just a diversion. 

"It's like the thief who cries fire in a crowed restaurant so that when no one's looking he can clear out the cash register."

The 39th federal election will be fought on three main fronts. 

There will be a battle in rural Ontario between the Liberals and the Conservatives, the Bloc Quebecois will try to pick up seats in the remaining Liberal strongholds in Montreal and the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives will be a number of three way races in British Columbia. 

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