Corruption scandal forces collapse of Canadian Government
The World Today - Tuesday, 29 November , 2005 12:34:00
Reporter: Richard Reynolds
ELEANOR HALL: A corruption scandal has just forced the collapse of the Canadian Government.
In rowdy scenes in the Canadian Parliament this lunchtime, Canada's minority Liberal Government has lost a no-confidence motion against it and the country has now been plunged into a Christmas election campaign.
Prime Minister Paul Martin's Government had been dogged for months by a corruption scandal involving the misuse of millions of dollars worth of taxpayer-funded advertising contracts.
And as Richard Reynolds reports from Toronto, the election campaign is shaping up as one of the dirtiest in years.
RICHARD REYNOLDS: Canada's Liberal Party won the last election 18 months ago, but with only a minority of Parliamentary seats.
Prime Minister Paul Martin's Government has had trouble clinging on to power; this is the second no-confidence motion they have faced.
Mr Martin has been beset by scandal over a flawed Government advertising program; the Opposition is trying to capitalize on a report on the scandal released earlier this month.
In the end it took just 12 minutes for the three opposition parties to force an election.
SPEAKER OF HOUSE: Yeas, pour, cent soixante et onze, 171, nays, contre, 133, cent trente trios.
RICHARD REYNOLDS: Tomorrow morning the Prime Minister will go to the Governor-General and select an election date, probably January 16th or 23rd.
Given the timing of this election, in the middle of a Canadian winter, the weather might be the biggest factor. One winter storm could easily distort election results by dramatically reducing turnout in one part of the country.
Claire Martin is a meteorologist with CBC Television.
CLAIRE MARTIN: But it's going to be harder than if it was in June. In June you'd have to worry about the Barbecue, putting the beer down to go vote. Now we have to worry about going through a howling snow-storm to go vote.
RICHARD REYNOLDS: Barring a weather disaster, polls published in the past week indicate the next Parliament will look a lot like the current one: another Liberal Party minority Government.
But Canadian politics has seriously fractured in the past decade, with the emergence of a powerful new sovereigntist party in Quebec province. There are now four major parties in Canada. This makes it very difficult for any one party to secure a Parliamentary majority.
Professor Nelson Wiseman is an expert on Canadian politics.
NELSON WISEMAN: We're probably heading in the longer term, toward Coalition Governments, which we haven't had in Canada except for a brief exception during the First World War, so I suspect we're moving more in the western European or European direction.
RICHARD REYNOLDS: But the Liberals, who have run Canada since the 1930s save for just 14 years, are going to try hard to hold on to power. Their key strategy will be to attack the leader of their chief competition, Steven Harper, the head of the Conservative Party.
One of the ways they do that is by portraying Harper as a George Bush clone. Attacking someone as too American or too close to the White House is a technique that has worked well in the past.
Norman Spector, a former Chief of Staff to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney believes many Canadians have doubts about the governing Liberal Party, but he thinks negative advertising techniques will still see them win the next election.
NORMAN SPECTOR: People will sort of swallow their reticence and vote in a Government that they may suspect is pretty arrogant, corrupt and sleazy, but still the fear-factor that is inspired by these negative television campaigns is designed to make that alternative, sort of the only realistic alternative, unacceptable.
RICHARD REYNOLDS: Just a few decades ago, Canadian campaigns were a genteel affair, but no longer. As Nelson Wiseman explains, Canadians have begun to adopt the techniques perfected by their southern neighbour.
NELSON WISEMAN: Canadians, when they watch American campaigns tell themselves often, in a sense of smugness, "Oh, we don't run campaigns like that in Canada." But the last one got dirty, especially at the end, and this one has gotten dirty and the campaign hasn't even begun.
RICHARD REYNOLDS: Just last week, Mr Martin was furious over an accusation by Mr Harper that the Liberals were connected to organized crime.
The campaign is likely to be fairly low key for the next month. First of all, it's the Christmas season and will be hard to get people's attention, so the real campaign will not get going until after New Year's Day. That leaves just 2 or 3 weeks for a national election campaign.
This Richard Reynolds in Toronto, for The World Today.
Accusing the liberals of connections to organised crime? This is going to be a really interesting campaign. I almost wish I wasn't getting married over Christmas so I could follow it!
Vroom et al., prepare to defend yourselves from Zeb et al. I forsee some interesting exchanges between Americans and Canadians in the Politics forum during the upcoming weeks...