WESTON: How wild week ahead could bring election

Greg Weston looks at the various scenarios that could bring down the government and send Canadians into an election campaign as early as next week.
Speaker Peter Milliken could be busy with procedural issues in the House of Commons next week. (Canadian Press)

If the federal opposition parties are determined to bring down Stephen Harper's government in Parliament, and force the country into an election, the axe will most likely fall on Friday, March 25.

That would send Canadians to the polls as early as Monday, May 2.

While the odds of an imminent election remain a gambler's headache, it seems certain next week in Parliament will be a boisterous gong show of political sabre-rattling and procedural manoeuvring.

Strategists say if there is going to be an election, the Conservatives will want to be defeated on their budget.

That would put the Conservatives' strong suit — the economy — at the forefront of an ensuing campaign, and allow them to blame the opposition parties for denying Canadians whatever goodies may be in the budget.

The Liberals, on the other hand, will try to defeat the government on ethical issues, leading to a clash of strategies with the ruling Conservatives.

Here's how the next week in Parliament is likely to unfold, according to interviews with key Conservative and Liberal strategists.

Monday: A Commons committee dominated by opposition MPs will issue a report expected to find the Harper government in contempt of Parliament for refusing to disclose the costs of the Conservatives' crime-and-punishment agenda and similar information on corporate tax cuts.

The Liberals will file a motion saying Parliament agrees the Harper government is in contempt. But it probably won't be voted on before Thursday.

Tuesday: The Harper government introduces its budget.

If all three opposition leaders immediately head to the microphones to say they can't support the Conservative fiscal plan, an election call will be as a good as done.

Jack Layton, for one, is more likely to say he will wait and consult with his caucus on Wednesday before deciding whether to bring down the government.

Wednesday: The party leaders will kick off four days of debate on the federal budget, but there is no opportunity to vote on it until Thursday.

Thursday: The day will probably begin with three hours of debate on the Liberals' motion, introduced Monday, asking Parliament to find the Harper government in contempt for withholding financial information from MPs.

At that point, the Conservatives will likely use a procedural manoeuvre to delay the actual vote on the Liberal motion until the following week.

Even if the vote takes place and passes on Thursday, finding the Harper administration in contempt of Parliament would not necessarily topple the government and force an election.

Thursday afternoon, the budget debate will continue until 5:15 p.m. when the bells will summon MPs to vote on a Bloc Quebecois budget amendment as yet unknown.

As a budget matter, the Bloc amendment will be a so-called confidence vote — if the opposition parties gang up to pass it, the government will likely fall, and the country will be off to the polls.

But the vote may not even happen on Thursday.

The Liberals, not wanting to fight an election over the Conservative budget, may use a procedural manoeuvre of their own, allowing them to punt the Bloc vote into the next week.

Friday: Hang on to your lawn signs — it is going to be a wild day in Parliament.

As a so-called opposition day, the Liberals will have the run of the House at the morning call to order.

If all goes to plan, the Liberals will immediately introduce a motion of non-confidence in the Harper government, likely a compendium of Conservative ills and failings, including corporate tax cuts.

The vote on the Liberal non-confidence motion will happen at 1:45 p.m.

If it passes with the help of the NDP and Bloc, the prime minister will head to Rideau Hall, probably Sunday morning, and it's off to the polls we go.

If the non-confidence motion does not pass, opposition MPs will have another chance to defeat the government Friday afternoon.

That's when the government has to get approval for its latest spending estimates, and without that approval, this Parliament is toast.

Of course, since defeating the government requires the votes of all three opposition parties, any one of them could decide to spare Canadians a $300-million trip to the polls.

One way or another, it is going to be one crazy week in Canadian politics.


Greg Weston was an investigative reporter for CBC News and a regular political commentator on CBC Radio and Television from 2010 to 2015.