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Paul Martin's government topples

Paul Martin Jr. has worn many crowns: captain of industry, slayer of the deficit, heir to his father's Liberal party leadership aspirations. But the crown he most desperately wanted took two decades to attain, and just two years to lose. Martin's ascent to the Prime Minister's Office was slow, calculated and fraught with obstacles. The CBC Archives website looks back at the political career of the Right Honourable Paul Martin.

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"This House has lost confidence in the government." That simple statement is all it takes to end Paul Martin's terms as prime minister. After 17 months of political manoeuvring, deal making and narrow scrapes, Martin's Liberal minority government came crashing down today. For the first time in 25 years, the country faces a winter campaign and election. As we see in this special CBC program from Parliament Hill, the wolves are already circling the beleaguered prime minister. 
• There are several kinds of no-confidence motions that can topple a government. The most common is a major piece of legislation, such as a throne speech or money bill (including the budget.) The government can attach confidence motions to any measure, no matter how minor. Opposition parties can also table no-confidence motions on certain days.

• The November 2005 no-confidence motion that brought down Paul Martin's Liberals marked the first time in Canadian history that a federal government fell to a simple no-confidence vote that was not associated with any piece of legislation. Before that time federal minorities had only fallen to no-confidence motions attached to financial legislation, or in the case of John Diefenbaker, a defence issue (nuclear weapons).

• The Conservative Party of Canada, with the support of the New Democratic Party and Bloc Québécois, introduced the no-confidence motion against Martin (NDP leader Jack Layton said his party's support of the Liberals did not extend beyond the budget.) The motion passed on Nov. 28, 2005, with 171 votes for and 133 against.

• A no-confidence motion does not necessarily force an election. After one passes, the prime minister must ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and set an election date. While this is usually a formality, the Governor General can refuse the prime minister's dissolution request, and can call on the Official Opposition to form a government if there is evidence it could secure and maintain confidence in the House.

• Although Paul Martin's minority was preoccupied with staying in power during his 17 months in office, the Liberals were able to make progress on some significant issues. A November 2004 meeting of provincial health ministers resulted in a 10-year agreement and a commitment to reduce waiting times. Martin also moved to legalize same-sex marriage and decriminalize the possession of marijuana. But the taint of the sponsorship scandal continued to overpower these efforts.

• On Aug. 4, 2005, Martin appointed journalist Michaëlle Jean as Canada's new Governor General. The appointment was generally well-received, though some critics complained that her husband had once been close with Quebec separatists.

• In November 2005, Paul Martin convened a summit on aboriginal issues in Kelowna, B.C. The leaders of 13 provinces and territories and five native organizations reached a five-year agreement to boost spending on aboriginal housing, education and health care by $5.1 billion. Martin considered it one of his proudest moments.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Nov. 28, 2005
Guest(s): Gilles Duceppe, Stephen Harper, Jack Layton, Peter Mackay, Paul Martin
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Paul Hunter
Duration: 4:06

Last updated: May 2, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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