Debate set stage for government's defeat

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said it was "time to change Canada's direction" in a sharp Commons debate Friday on a non-confidence motion the government called the "most partisan of attacks."
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said the Conservative government had lost the confidence of the House of Commons, as he speaks in support of a motion to defeat the government Friday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority government headed for defeat Friday afternoon, MPs traded accusations in heated exchanges in the Commons.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff rose in the House of Commons shortly after 10 a.m. and began debate on the motion of non-confidence that his party moved in the effort to bring down the government.

"I have to inform the House that the Official Opposition has lost confidence in the government," Ignatieff said. The motion asked that the House agree with the finding of a committee report tabled Monday that determined the government is in contempt of Parliament.

"Today, with this motion, we ask the House to do the same to find the government in contempt, and to withdraw the confidence of the House," he said.

Ignatieff said the government stonewalled for months on providing cost estimates that were being asked for by the opposition and that is what eventually led to Friday's motion of non-confidence.

He said the Liberals have no doubt that the Conservatives have broken the rules of democracy and, "it is time to change Canada's direction."

"The House must speak with a clear voice and it must say that a government that breaks the rules and conceals the facts from the Canadian people does not deserve to remain in office," the Liberal leader said.

"After five years of Conservative government, it is time to say enough is enough," Ignatieff said.

When Ignatieff was done his opening speech, Conservative MP Harold Albrecht briefly responded on behalf of the government and then House leader John Baird delivered a speech.

"I wish I could say I was pleased to make this speech today but I'm not. In fact, I'm saddened that a Parliament that has accomplished a lot recently will come to an end because of the reckless actions of the Liberal, Bloc Quebecois and NDP coalition in forcing an unwanted and unneccessary election on Canadians," he said.

Baird said the opposition parties were bent on defeating the government "at all costs." He also argued that the procedure and House affairs committee that found the government in contempt "used the tyranny of the majority to get the pre-determined outcome they wanted."

"And let us be clear, it was pre-determined," said Baird.

"They were the ones who had demonstrated real contempt for Parliament and they will have to answer to the Canadian people for that," Baird said, referring to all committees that are dominated by the opposition in membership.

He urged the parties to reconsider their decision to prompt an "unnecessary and costly election."

Baird made mention of the legislation that will be lost once an election is triggered and defended his government's budget that was presented Tuesday and immediately rejected by the opposition parties. He said a vote in favour of the motion of non-confidence is "a vote that will weaken the Canada's economic recovery."

Debate continued with the opposition and government MPs trading accusations over economic management and ethics scandals. Conservative MP Gordon O'Connor brought up the Liberal sponsorship scandal.

After the debate, MPs continued to set the stage for the looming election in question period. Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasn't there, as Baird continued to fend off the attacks from Ignatieff, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe.

Baird and his fellow Conservative MPs repeatedly referred to the opposition parties as a "coalition," a label that will be heard throughout the coming campaign.

Baird singled out Ignatieff for not answering a direct question from reporters earlier this week about the possibility of forming a coalition after the election.

"He can run away from the media, but the leader of the Liberal party can't run away from Canadians," he said.

There was a more conciliatory mood in the House of Commons before question period got underway — Baird and Ignatieff shook hands, and other opposition and government MPs who are retiring mingled and said their goodbyes to each other.

Motion of non-confidence

The Liberal Party gave notice earlier this week of the motion of non-confidence in Harper and his government.

The motion says the House agrees with a committee report tabled Monday that found the government in contempt of Parliament, "which is unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history, and consequently the House has lost confidence in the Government."

The Liberals began the history-making day on Parliament Hill with a caucus meeting.

Then the MPs watched Speaker Peter Milliken enter the House of Commons for what was to be his last time in his official capacity as Speaker. Before speaking on his non-confidence motion, Ignatieff paid tribute to the Liberal MP, who isn't running for re-election, and a political career that has lasted more than 20 years. 

Shortly after 2 p.m. Friday, the motion was called to a vote and was passed by a vote of 156 to 145. Harper said later he will go to Gov. Gen. David Johnston on Saturday, presumably to ask him to dissolve Canada's 40th Parliament and begin an election campaign.