- 28 November, 2005

Canada's fragile minority Liberal government, which has never managed to shake off the effects of a patronage scandal, is set to be defeated in a parliamentary vote on Monday after 17 months in power.

Legislators will vote at about 2345 GMT on a non-confidence motion put forward by the three opposition parties, which control a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

The opposition says the scandal - one of the main driving forces in Canadian politics - means Prime Minister Paul Martin must quit immediately.

Once the vote is over, Martin is set to tell Parliament he plans to visit Governor-General Michaelle Jean - the representative of head of state Queen Elizabeth - on Tuesday to ask her to formally dissolve Parliament and set an election date.

The last minority government to lose a confidence vote was that of then Conservative prime minister Joe Clark, who was defeated over his budget in December 1979. He lost the subsequent February 1980 election to the Liberals.

Recent opinion polls show the most likely result this time is another minority Liberal government, which will again be forced to rely on support from other parties to stay in power.

Martin took over as prime minister in December 2003 but ran into trouble in February 2004 when it was revealed that C$100 million in government advertising and sponsorship contracts had been funneled to Liberal-friendly firms for little or no work. He lost his parliamentary majority in the June 2004 election amid widespread anger.

The Liberals now hold 133 of the 308 seats in Parliament. The official opposition Conservatives have 98, the separatist Bloc Quebecois has 53 and the left-leaning New Democrats have 18. There are four independent legislators and two vacant seats.

"We'll get about the same number as we did last time, around 130 or 131 seats," said one Liberal campaign strategist who correctly predicted the result of the June 2004 election.

The Liberals have been in power since late 1993, when they inherited a C$42 billion budget deficit from the outgoing Conservative government. The budget deficit is gone, the economy is booming and unemployment is at a 30-year low.

Martin - widely criticized for presiding over an unfocused and uncoordinated Liberal campaign in June 2004 - has already made it clear that this time he will stress the government's economic record, Reuters reports.


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