CBC In Depth
Left to right: NDP Leader Jack Layton, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and Prime Minister Paul Martin, May 5, 2005. (CP Photo/Fred Chartrand)
INDEPTH: THE 38TH PARLIAMENT
June 28, 2004-Nov. 29, 2005
CBC News Online | January 26, 2006

Canada's first minority government in a quarter of a century fell on the night of Nov. 28, 2005. The Conservatives, New Democrats and Bloc Qu�b�cois united to defeat Paul Martin's Liberals by approving a simple motion: "That this House has lost confidence in the Government."

The vote came exactly 17 months after Martin failed in his quest to lead the Liberals to their fourth straight majority government, in his first outing as prime minister.

The general election on June 28, saw the Conservatives making gains in Ontario and the Bloc Qu�b�cois picking up seats at the expense of the Liberals.

In the months that followed, Martin's minority wavered between fragile and somewhat stable. Here's a look at some of the key dates in the life of his government.


QUOTES FROM THE COLLAPSE

Prime Minister Paul Martin:

"Stephen Harper sees no positive role for government, not in improving the lives of Canadians, not even in standing up for Canada."

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper:

"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."

NDP Leader Jack Layton:

"The Liberals have this streak of entitlement or arrogance that prevents them from working in a minority Parliament with other parties. That has got to be addressed in the election by electing more New Democrats."

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe

"Because of the sponsorship scandal, the government has no longer the confidence of the House."

Nov. 29, 2005:
Parliament is dissolved after Prime Minister Paul Martin visits Governor General Michaëll Jean to inform her that he is resigning because he no longer has the confidence of the House of Commons. The campaign that would elect the 39th Parliament is officially on.

» CBC Story: Federal leaders come out swinging as Jan. 23 election set


Nov. 28, 2005:
MPs from the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois vote to bring down the Liberal government, meaning a general election is imminent.

» CBC Story: MPs topple Liberal government, trigger election


Nov. 24, 2005:
Opposition Leader Stephen Harper officially tables a motion of no-confidence in the government. It is substantially shorter than the version released a day earlier. It is expected to come to a vote on Nov. 28.

» CBC Story: Stage set for government defeat


Nov. 23, 2005:
The opposition parties unveil the no-confidence motion that would be introduced in the Commons the next day. The motion reads: "The House condemns the government for its arrogance in refusing to compromise with the opposition parties over the timing of the next general election and for its 'culture of entitlement,' corruption, scandal and gross abuse of public funds for political purposes and, consequently, the government no longer has the confidence of the House."

The motion would come to a vote on Monday, Nov. 28 and would lead to the defeat of the government.

» CBC Story: Harper unveils no-confidence motion


Nov. 21, 2005:
The House passes an NDP motion that calls on Prime Minister Paul Martin to dissolve Parliament in January for a Feb. 13 election. The Liberals say they will ignore the non-binding motion, clearing the way for a motion of no-confidence to be introduced later in the week.

» CBC Story: MPs pass motion calling for February election


Nov. 16, 2005:
The opposition parties set Nov. 28 as the most likely date to bring down the government. Prime Minister Martin refused to agree to an opposition demand that he call an election in early January for the middle of February.

Opposition leader Stephen Harper said unless Martin �clearly agreed, solemnly committed to call the election in January, then a non-confidence vote will go ahead on the Thursday [Nov. 24]."

The motion would come before the House that day but probably would not be voted on until the following Monday – Nov. 28. That would allow a first ministers conference on native affairs to go ahead as scheduled.

» CBC Story: Opposition eyeing Christmas campaign


Nov. 14, 2005:
Finance Minister Ralph Goodale releases an economic update before the Commons finance committee. The document outlines $30 billion in tax cuts and increased spending on post-secondary education. The opposition labels it a pre-election budget.

Goodale tells the committee that the government decided days earlier to make the document more comprehensive because it was looking less likely that it would have a chance to bring down a budget in February.

» CBC Story: Liberals commit to tax cuts as election looms


Nov. 12, 2005:
The leaders of the three opposition parties issue an ultimatum to Prime Minister Paul Martin: call an election in January or face a vote of no-confidence that could force an election now.

» CBC Story: Opposition leaders hand Martin an ultimatum


Nov. 7, 2005:
NDP Leader Jack Layton says the government's response to his party's demands on health care falls short. Layton says his party won't support the Liberals in any new no-confidence motions.

"This Parliament's life is likely limited ... by the unethical behaviour of the Liberal party," says Layton.

He also does not rule out further negotiations with the Liberals.

» CBC Story: Layton won't back Liberals


Nov. 4, 2005:
NDP Leader Jack Layton says he wants more time to study a Liberal response to the NDP's demands in return for continued support.

» CBC Story: NDP wants more time to consider Liberal health-care pitch


Nov. 2, 2005:
NDP Leader Jack Layton says he won't jump into a decision to force an election. Layton says he's asked Prime Minister Martin to adopt a number of measures put forward by the NDP in exchange for continued support. Among them was a pledge to ensure that health care is not privatized.

» CBC Story: No quick decision on election: Layton


Nov. 1, 2005:
Justice John Gomery releases the first of two reports on the sponsorship scandal. Gomery concludes that former prime minister Jean Chrétien was not directly involved in the scandal but must bear much of the responsibility because the sponsorship program was run out of the Prime Minister's Office.

He says that people close to Chrétien were involved in an orchestrated plan to illegally finance the Liberal party in Quebec.

The report says that Prime Minister Paul Martin, Chrétien's finance minister at the time, is not at fault.

Opposition Leader Stephen Harper and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe say it's time to bring down the government.

Gilles Duceppe
» CBC Story: Harper, Duceppe call for quick election


Sept. 26, 2005:
The House of Commons resumes sitting, with little if any talk of forcing a fall election.


June 24, 2005:
The House of Commons was to have risen for the summer on June 23, however, the government announced it wanted to deal with its same-sex marriage bill and the budget legislation before the summer recess. Extending the session would require support of a majority of MPs.

The Bloc said it would support the move only if the government promised in writing that it would put the same-sex marriage legislation to a vote before the summer recess.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, threatened to try to topple the government over its budget bills if it went ahead with the same-sex marriage legislation.

The Conservatives were headed off at the pass. In a surprise move, and with a number of Conservative MPs missing, the Liberals marched out a rarely used procedural motion to cut off all debate and force an immediate vote on the budget.

The Liberals had forged a deal with the NDP and the Bloc Québécois to get the motion allowing the budget vote carried. The move also cleared the way for a vote on the same-sex marriage bill in the last week of June.

» CBC Story: Commons amends budget in surprise midnight vote (June 24, 2005)


June 15, 2005:
Paul Martin (CP Photo)
The government survives no fewer than 16 votes in the House of Commons. A defeat on any of them would have forced an election.

But in the end, there was no repeat of the single-vote squeaker win of May 19. The closest vote passed 153 to 149.

» CBC Story: Liberals survive confidence votes (June 15, 2005)


June 6, 2005:
And then there were four. Independents, that is. London-area Liberal Pat O'Brien announces he will be leaving the Liberals to sit as an independent. He is angry over the government's push to quickly pass the same-sex marriage legislation.

The move came two months after O'Brien revealed that he was being courted by the Conservatives – as were several other Liberals who were uncomfortable with their party's stand on same-sex marriage.

» CBC Story: Ontario Liberal MP to sit as Independent (June 6, 2005)


May 19, 2005:
There are two motions in the late afternoon of May 19 that could bring down the government. The first – on the budget that was tabled in February – passes. The Conservatives said they would support it – and they did.

The second motion – on the amendment to add the deal with the NDP that increases spending by $4.6 billion – is much tighter. The Conservatives and the Bloc vote against it – as does independent MP David Kilgour. But it wasn't enough to defeat the government.

Bolstered by the defection of Belinda Stronach and support from Independents Carolyn Parrish and Chuck Cadman – and the first-ever tie-breaking vote from the Speaker of the House in a confidence motion – Paul Martin's government survives its closest brush with death.

» CBC Story: Government survives two confidence votes
» CBC Story: We have lost the battle but not the war Harper says


May 17, 2005:
Stephen Harper
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper hints that if the government survives the confidence vote that is two days away, he wouldn't try to bring down the minority before the House breaks for the summer recess.

And then it happened. Belinda Stronach, who helped merge the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties, crosses the floor to join the Liberals.

She says she's unhappy with the leadership of Stephen Harper – and that he doesn't understand the needs of all parts of the country. Martin makes her minister of human resources development and puts her in charge of making sure the recommendations of the Gomery inquiry are implemented, once Justice John Gomery issues his report on the sponsorship scandal.

» CBC Story: Conservative Stronach joins Liberals


May 15, 2005:
David Kilgour – one of three independent MPs – says he does not expect the government to survive long. The government needs the support of all three independents to survive.


May 10-12, 2005:
The business of the House of Commons grinds to a halt as the opposition parties band together to pass motions each day adjourning the House early.

The logjam is broken after the government agrees to put the budget to a vote on May 19.

» CBC Story: Harper agrees to NDP's 'pairing' offer


May 9, 2005:
The Speaker of the House of Commons rules that a motion tabled by the Conservatives, which called for the government to resign, was in order. The Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois said it would be a confidence vote – and that if the government lost the vote, it would have to resign.

The Liberals had already dismissed a similar motion as a procedural matter and said they would continue governing even if they lost the vote.

» CBC Story: Opposition says it could topple government Tuesday


April 26, 2005:
NDP Leader Jack Layton offers to support the Liberals in the House, if they amend the budget to cancel corporate tax cuts due to be phased in over several years and pump more money into social programs. The NDP and the Liberals negotiate and work out an agreement.

Tax cuts for small and medium-sized businesses would remain, but cuts slated to kick in in 2008 for large corporations would be put off. And the Liberals agree to amend the budget to boost spending by $4.6 billion.

» CBC Story: PM shells out $4.6B for NDP's support (April 26, 2005)


April 21, 2005:
Prime Minister Martin takes to the airwaves to ask Canadians for more time. He promises to call an election within 30 days of the release of Justice Gomery's report. That would mean a January or February 2006 vote instead of a spring or early summer election.

Harper labels Martin's performance a "sad spectacle" and says he will spend the following week – while the House is not sitting – to take the pulse of the nation, to find out whether Canadians want an election sooner rather than later.

All party leaders hit the road, looking every bit like an election campaign has already begun.

» CBC Story: Martin pledges election after final Gomery report (April 21, 2005)


April 18, 2005:
The Conservatives accuse the Liberals of running scared. The Liberals had postponed an opposition day. Opposition Leader Stephen Harper says the government did that to avoid being toppled. Government House leader Tony Valeri says his information indicated the Conservatives wanted to hijack the operations of the House. Harper says he's so upset that he may try to defeat the budget legislation and trigger an election.

» CBC Story: Angry Tories say Liberals �scared' of motions


April 15, 2005:
Jack Layton
Several polls show the Conservatives pulling ahead of the Liberals in popular support. Liberal support is imploding. It's down substantially in Quebec and Ontario.

Harper hints it might not be necessary to wait for Justice Gomery's final report before putting the credibility of the Liberals to the voters. NDP Leader Jack Layton – seeing his party gaining support – is no longer talking about keeping the Liberals in power.

"It will be the Canadian people that decide when the election should happen," says Layton. "In politics, you listen to the people and that is what we are doing."

And the Bloc Québécois – poised to all but wipe the Liberals out of Quebec, if the polls are accurate – is rumoured ready to introduce a motion of no-confidence during the budget debate.

Days later, an Environics poll commissioned by the CBC, suggests that an early election would likely lead to a Conservative minority government. It also finds that voters are disillusioned by all political parties.

» CBC Story: Snap election could bring Tory minority: CBC poll (April 15, 2005)


April 13, 2005: Edmonton MP David Kilgour – one of two Alberta Liberals – says he is so disgusted by what has been coming out of the inquiry that he has no choice but to leave the Liberal caucus and sit as an Independent. It's the second time he has left a governing party: in 1990 his opposition to the GST prompted him to quit the Progressive Conservatives for the Liberals.

» CBC Story: Alberta MP David Kilgour quits the Liberal party


April 8, 2005:
The federal opposition parties are given the gift of Gomery. A publication ban is lifted on the explosive testimony of Jean Brault, the former head of Groupaction, an advertising company that reaped tens of millions of dollars in government contracts under the sponsorship program. Brault gave details on how millions of dollars – some of it in cash – found its way back to the Quebec wing of the Liberal party to pay expenses incurred during federal election campaigns.

Martin says he is personally offended by what he heard and promises that anyone who broke the law will be punished.

He says Canadians should be given the chance to hear what Justice John Gomery has to say in his final report before deciding whether to punish the government.

The opposition parties hold back for the moment, saying Canadians need time to digest what is being said at the inquiry.

» CBC Story: Political parties gauging impact of sponsorship revelations (April 8, 2005)


March 25, 2005:
Days after the Conservative convention, Stephen Harper announces his party will vote against the budget if the government insists on including an amendment to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. It added greenhouse gas emissions to the list of controlled substances, which would allow Ottawa to regulate those emissions.

Harper accuses the government of trying to use the budget to push through its Kyoto plan.

» CBC Story: Tories will reject budget over Kyoto, Harper says (March 25, 2005)


March 18-20, 2005:
Conservatives gather in Montreal for a policy convention. It starts ugly, as old wounds open between former Progressive Conservatives and former Canadian Alliance members. Deputy party leader Peter MacKay goes as far as saying the survival of the party is at stake.

But party leader Stephen Harper manages to steer a centrist course. His easily wins a leadership review – 84 per cent of delegates support him as he backs away from some old Reform/Alliance positions that made him and his party a tough sell east of Manitoba.

Harper promises that a Conservative government would not introduce abortion legislation. He also backs off party platform planks that called for:
  • Referendums on constitutional amendments and on issues of national importance.
  • The creation of a citizens assembly to adopt proportional representation.
  • Holding elections on fixed dates.
  • Allowing members of Parliament to be recalled.
  • The reviews are positive. The Conservatives come out of their convention looking and sounding like a united party.

» CBC Story: Harper castigates Liberals as party rift opens (March 19, 2005)
» Viewpoint: Harper veers to the middle: Larry Zolf (March 29, 2005)


Feb. 23, 2005:
The government brings down its budget. Opposition Leader Stephen Harper says it's a budget he can live with and he won't try to bring down the government over it.

"There's nothing in this budget that would justify an election at this time," Harper says.

Most Canadians seem satisfied as well, leaving some Ottawa watchers wondering whether the Liberals might try to force the opposition parties to bring down the government. The theory is that the Liberals could then go to the polls arguing that the opposition refused to allow a popular budget to get the approval of the House of Commons – that the opposition forced the country into an unwanted election. Proponents of that theory argue the time may be right for a Liberal majority.

» CBC Story: Harper pleased by budget, won't bring down government


Feb. 16, 2005:
Debate begins on the government's proposed same-sex marriage legislation.

» CBC Story: Martin, Harper kick off same-sex debate


Feb. 15, 2005: The minority government loses a vote on a piece of legislation for the first time. The proposed legislation would have separated the departments of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The government does not fall because it can only be brought down after losing a vote on a money bill.

» CBC Story: Minority Liberals lose 1st bill in Commons vote


Feb. 10, 2005:
Prime Minister Martin testifies before the Gomery inquiry. He says he wasn't involved in the sponsorship program while he was finance minister. He wasn't in Jean Chrétien's inner circle. Martin points out – as he has several times – that his first action as prime minister was to set up the Gomery inquiry and fire people accused of wrongdoing under the sponsorship program.

» CBC Story: Gomery inquiry: A prime minister testifies (Feb. 10, 2005)


Feb. 8, 2005:
Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien testifies before the Gomery inquiry. Chrétien is determined to protect his reputation, which had been tarnished by allegations that the federal sponsorship program wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on projects aimed at boosting federalism in Quebec after the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty.

Chrétien begins with an impassioned defence of his government's record: he says it was his duty to protect federalism in Quebec in the wake of the close referendum vote. Through hours of testimony, Chrétien insists he knew nothing about specific sponsorship contracts, their values or the amount of commissions paid to Liberal-friendly firms.

» CBC Story: Gomery Inquiry: Jean Chrétien testifies (Feb. 8, 2005)


Oct. 6, 2004:
The Conservatives and Bloc Québécois suggest they're in no hurry to try to bring down the government. Opposition Leader Stephen Harper says he would like to work with the minority government if the Liberals are "more forthcoming" than they are now and consult with the House on important matters. The Bloc and Conservatives say they will propose amendments to the throne speech.

» CBC Story: Harper, Duceppe spell out changes to Liberal agenda


Oct. 5, 2004:
Prime Minister Martin outlines his plans for the new government in the speech from the throne. He hints at more spending on social programs as well as greater fiscal responsibility.

» CBC Story: Throne speech lays out Liberal path


June 28, 2004:
Canadians elect a Liberal minority government. The NDP falls just short of holding the balance of power. It means the new government will have to tread very carefully to avoid falling in a vote of no confidence.


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