OTTAWA—Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government has been defeated in a non-confidence vote.
The Friday afternoon vote was a moment of rare parliamentary drama as Liberal, New Democrat and Bloc Quebecois MPs stood one by one to signal their opposition to the ruling Conservatives.
The Conservatives were defeated in a 156 to 145 vote.
Speaking after the vote, Harper said he was disappointed with the defeat of his government, saying it sparks an election that Canadians “clearly” don’t want.
He said the Tuesday budget that was denounced by the three opposition parties was “critically important” to continuing Canada’s economic recovery.
In what promises to be a recurring election theme, he took aim at the Liberals and their “coalition partners” for forcing Canada’s fourth election in seven years.
Harper is expected to visit Governor General David Johnston at Rideau Hall Saturday morning to set in motion an election that will likely send Canadians to the polls on May 2 or May 9.
It will be Canada’s fifth election in just over 10 years – three of those elections have produced minority governments.
In the 308-seat House of Commons, the Conservatives have 143 seats, the Liberals 77, the Bloc 47 and the NDP 36. There are two Independent MPs and three vacancies.
The vote caps an acrimonious morning as opposition MPs put forward their arguments to topple the Tories.
“Enough is enough,” Ignatieff declared, adding that Harper has shown disrespect for democracy, undermined Canada’s finances and chosen to spend money on “jets and jails” instead of measures to help Canadian families.
“A government that does not respect democracy does not deserve to remain in power,” Ignatieff said in the Commons Friday morning.
He said the Harper government had failed to address vital issues such as health care, child care and assistance for “Canadian families in poverty.”
Instead, he said, the Conservatives are devoting billions of dollars to purchasing 65 F-35 fighters, building prisons and providing income tax breaks for corporations.
“So we need a change,” Ignatieff said. Previewing his election campaign platform, he went on to say the priorities for Ottawa’s spending should be early learning and childcare; post-secondary education for all, “especially for aboriginal and immigrant Canadians;” energy efficiency and “green jobs;” care for ill family members and better support for the retired.
Ignatieff kicked off debate on the Liberals’ motion that declares that the Commons has lost confidence in the Conservative government after the “unprecedented” committee finding that it was in contempt of Parliament.
“We did not seek an election. But if we need one to replace a government that doesn’t respect democracy with one that does, I can’t think of a more necessary election,” Ignatieff said to the applause of his caucus.
He said there is a “hunger” among Canadians for a new direction after five years of Conservative rule.
“Enough of the politics of fear. Enough of the politics of division,” he said.
Government House Leader John Baird signaled the Conservative campaign will renew its negative characterization of the Liberals and NDP as a coalition determined with the help of the Bloc Quebecois to gang up on the Tories. Harper used this gambit to rally the public against the opposition in late 2008 when the Liberals, NDP and BQ joined forces in an attempt to defeat the government over what they saw as an inadequate federal budgetary plan.
In an acrimonious debate that appeared to preview a hard-hitting campaign, Baird accused the opposition “coalition” of forcing a “reckless” election at a time when Parliament was achieving results.
He said it’s opposition MPs who have shown “real contempt” for Parliament by ganging up on the government.
“They will have to answer for that,” Baird said.
He said the election will weaken Canada’s economic recovery and derail measures outlined in Tuesday’s budget, such as more cash for the poorest seniors.
NDP Leader Jack Layton said Harper could have tried to avoid an election by working with other parties to improve Tuesday’s budget but the Prime Minister did not do so.
“The truth is the Prime Minister prefers to have an election,” Layton told MPs.
Presiding over the debate and the historic vote to come was Peter Milliken, his last day as Speaker of the House of Commons. Milliken, a Liberal who represents Kingston and the Islands, is not running for re-election.
He was first elected Speaker in 2001 and has held the post since then, making him the longest serving Speaker in Canadian history. In a day when the Commons was filled with sharp partisan rhetoric, all parties took a break to pay tribute to Milliken’s service.
“With your departure, this place loses a faithful guardian,” Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said.
NDP MP Libby Davies noted that Milliken presided over many key parliamentary moments, such as breaking a tie vote in 2005 to prevent an early federal election.
Davies hoped that Milliken, a long-time student of parliamentary procedure, isn’t “left to muttering ‘order’ in your sleep.”