MPs pass motion calling for February election

Federal MPs have passed an NDP motion that calls on Prime Minister Paul Martin to dissolve parliament in January for a February election.

Federal MPs have passed an NDP motion that calls on Prime Minister Paul Martin to dissolve Parliament in January for a Feb. 13 election.

But the minority Liberals immediately said they would ignore the non-binding motion, clearing the way for a no-confidence vote expected to take down their government next week.

The motion – which was introduced by NDP Leader Jack Layton and supported by the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois – passed by a vote of 167-129 on Monday night.

After the vote, Layton said he hoped it would spur a change of heart from Martin, who has repeatedly rejected opposition demands that he agree to make an election call in the first week of January.

Layton said he felt compelled to introduce the motion because an election was already looming and he didn't see any point in letting Liberal cabinet ministers use the holiday break to race around the country making big-ticket spending promises at the taxpayers' expense.

"It didn't seem like a positive thing," he told a news conference.

"Instead, getting some housekeeping work done now ... and then having the election immediately after the holidays makes a lot of sense – and the majority of members of Parliament clearly have expressed that tonight."

Liberal House leader Tony Valeri responded by dismissing the NDP motion as political posturing.

"It's not really a compromise, it's a cop-out that's an attempt to evade responsibility for causing an election during the Christmas holidays," Valeri said.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said the Liberals' refusal to respect Monday's vote meant he would proceed with a plan to introduce a binding no-confidence motion on Thursday.

It would come to a vote on Nov. 28.

The motions are both part of a plan to oust Martin's Liberals that came out of talks between Harper, Layton and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe on Nov. 13. That's when the three opposition leaders issued an ultimatum demanding that Martin agree to make an election call in January or face a no-confidence motion that could bring down his government in November.

Harper said an election call next week could only be avoided if Martin changes his mind about accepting opposition demands to call a February election – or if the government prorogues Parliament.

It is expected to pass with the endorsement of the three opposition parties, which would mean an election call would likely have to be issued on Nov. 29.

Meanwhile, the Liberals have already begun to make big-ticket spending announcements including – on Monday – $46 million in aid to the auto industry, more money for day care, and fast-tracked help for homeowners, aboriginals and others.

Other measures announced in the past few weeks include $30 billion in tax relief, $920 million for immigration services in Ontario, $12.5 million in compensation to descendants of Chinese workers who were charged a head tax to enter the country and $2.5 million to tell the story of Italian Canadians affected by Ottawa's wartime measures.

Later in the week, the Commons is expected to consider a financial motion required to pay for provisions in Finance Minister Ralph Goodale's fiscal update that provide billions in tax cuts to companies and smaller breaks for individuals.

The Bloc Québécois has said its MPs will support that.

There is also speculation that the federal government could announce during the week nearly $1½ billion in aid for the softwood lumber industry, up to $5 billion for aboriginal issues, aid for farmers and money for the military.