Liberals lose confidence of the House

In just a few hours, the Prime Minister will pay a visit to the Governor General to ask her to set the election date for January 23rd for what will be one of the longest campaigns in a quarter century.

Canadian voters will be heading to the polls, likely sometime in January, after the opposition brought down the minority government in a no-confidence vote Monday evening.

The motion passed easily in a 171 to 133 vote, triggering an election campaign one year and five months after Canadians last went to the polls.

"Let's get started, time's a wasting," a boisterous Martin told his supporters after the motion passed. "C'mon, we've got a campaign to run."

As the votes were counted, parliamentarians stood to applaud MPs who will not run in the coming election.

After the vote result was announced, cheering MPs tossed sheets of paper into the air. They then crossed the aisle to shake hands with their political opponents as they prepared for the long campaign.

The Liberal defeat marks the first time a government has fallen on a straight motion of no-confidence.

Other minority governments have been forced into elections after losing budget votes or censure motions interpreted as loss of confidence.

Shortly after the collapse of his government, Martin lashed out at the opposition as he launched his party's election campaign, taking particular aim at Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

"Stephen Harper sees no positive role for government, not in improving the lives of Canadians, not even in standing up for Canada," he said to his cheering caucus.

Harper promised to mount a campaign focusing on the future of Canada, saying it's not enough to just complain about the Liberals.

He referred to the no-confidence vote as an historic night for Canada.

"This is not just the end of a tired, directionless scandal-plagued government, it's the start of a bright new future for this great country," Harper said.

Last week, Harper officially tabled the motion of no-confidence which read: "That this House has lost confidence in the government."

The Liberals have 133 seats, followed by the Conservatives with 98, the Bloc Québécois with 53 and the NDP with 18. There are four seats held by Independents and two are vacant.

According to a poll conducted by Environics Research for the CBC, 35 per cent of decided voters said they would vote Liberal. The Conservatives came in at 30 per cent and the NDP was picked by 20 per cent.

With a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20, the poll puts the Liberals and Conservatives at a virtual dead heat.

Federal elections have to be held on a Monday and the campaigns have to be at least 36 days long. Martin is expected to call for a slightly longer campaign, setting the vote for mid-January, either the 16th or the 23rd, with an agreement among the parties to take a holiday break and stop campaigning between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3.

An eight-week campaign would be the longest the country has seen in two decades.

The last time a government fell at the hands of the opposition was Joe Clark's Conservative government in 1979.

NDP Leader Jack Layton criticized the Liberals for refusing to compromise and agree to their proposal to hold a February election, avoiding a Christmas campaign.

"As a result of the stubbornness of the Liberals and the inflexibility that we've seen, we will be starting an election [campaign] tomorrow," Layton said.

Martin had promised to call an election within 30 days after the final sponsorship report is delivered on Feb. 1.

Monday's vote means a number of bills will die on the order paper, among them an act to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and an animal cruelty bill.