As rhetoric rises, parties inch closer to May vote
The opposition parties have turned up the pressure on the Conservative government, with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois agreeing to support a Liberal non-confidence motion that could go to a vote on Friday and trigger a May election.
Initially, it appeared that the Conservatives would be toppled on the budget vote, which would have turned their financial plan into a campaign platform.
However, the Liberals managed to delay the vote in the House and make their non-confidence motion -- which focuses on respect for Parliament and democracy -- the election trigger.
The Liberal motion accuses the Conservatives of hiding the true costs of its crime legislation, tax cuts for corporations and jet fighter program.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff accused the prime minister and his government's new budget of being "out of touch and out of control" in Parliament on Wednesday.
One day earlier, all three leaders signalled their intention to reject the federal budget after it was unveiled by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
"The priorities of this government make no sense to Canadians," added Ignatieff, again pointing to spending on fighter jets and last summer's billion-dollar G20 summit.
"This is a democracy for heaven's sake. (Harper) has shown flagrant disregard for democracy. It's time to bring democracy back to Canada."
NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe both said Wednesday they would support Ignatieff's motion.
During question period, the Conservatives accused the opposition of blindly dismissing the budget without actually reading the document.
The Tories have also said that there is still a chance to avoid an election, despite a growing likelihood Canadians will go to the polls.
However, Flaherty stated firmly there would be no negotiations, despite Layton suggesting he was still open to more talks.
"Negotiations take place before the budget, not after the budget," he said.
House Leader John Baird added that the proposed budget has plenty of spending for key programs, such as new benefits for seniors and volunteer firefighters.
Baird said that the opposition were forcing a "reckless election" and accused the Liberals of plotting to form a coalition with the Bloc and the NDP.
Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called on the opposition leaders to reconsider their plan to reject the budget and force a "useless" election.
He said it's not too late for the opposition leaders to change their minds and "put the interests of Canadians first."
When asked whether he would go to the Governor General and ask for the dissolution of Parliament, Harper said no.
"Our priority is the economy and that will continue to be our focus as long as we're allowed to make that our focus," he said, indicating it will be up to the opposition to bring down the government.
CTV's Chief Political Correspondent Craig Oliver said Harper's comments indicate he plans to make the economy the centrepiece of his election campaign.
Harper's message, Oliver said, is that "the economic recovery, which he says is vulnerable, may be at risk by the actions of the opposition parties in bringing down a budget which he says is an essential part of the government's plan for that recovery."
Harper listed a number of items in the budget that would benefit various groups of Canadians, such as veterans and seniors, and emphasized the opposition is killing those initiatives by rejecting the fiscal plan.
Election rhetoric heats up
The Liberals' non-confidence motion states: "That the House agrees with the finding of the standing committee on procedure and House affairs that the government is in contempt of Parliament, which is unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history, and consequently, the House has lost confidence in the government."
All parties have been jostling for position in recent days ahead of an expected election call.
On Wednesday, the Conservatives launched a TV ad that accuses Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff of political opportunism and plays on their "he didn't come back for you" tagline.
"At a time of economic uncertainty, Michael Ignatieff, backed by the NDP and Bloc Quebecois, is bent on defeating the budget and forcing an election," the ad says.
The NDP and Liberals have each launched their own ads in the last few weeks, taking aim at the Conservatives and outlining their own priorities.
Both the budget and accusations of contempt against the Conservatives will offer the opposition parties the chance to bring down the government before the end of the week.
Most analysts predict Canadians would go to the polls in early May, likely on the second. It would mark Canada's fourth general election in seven years.