OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper leads an anti-democratic government that cannot be trusted, his political opponents charged in the wake of a pair of key rulings Wednesday that could precipitate a general election that could be called as early as March 23.
House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken ruled Wednesday that International Development Minister Bev Oda gave answers to parliamentarians that caused "confusion" at the very least and, as a result, he concluded that Oda breached parliamentary rules.
Milliken also ruled that the government failed to respond appropriately to requests made in the House of Commons for the full cost of the government's justice legislation, a failure that puts the government as a whole in breach of parliamentary rules.
"What (Milliken) has said is there is good evidence here that there has been contempt of Parliament," said Queen's University prof. Ned Franks, an expert on constitutional and parliamentary affairs.
The rulings set in motion a process which could see the House of Commons vote to declare the government and Oda in contempt of Parliament.
No government in Canadian history has ever been found in contempt of Parliament and it is almost as rare for a cabinet minister to be found in contempt.
A finding of contempt, which would happen no earlier than March 23, could be enough for the opposition to team up to defeat the government and send the country to the polls on that issue rather than on, for example, the federal budget which will be tabled on March 22.
"Whatever happens here, wherever this goes after this, Canadians will be asked to make a judgment over whether these people are competent economic managers and they'll also be asked the simple question: Do you trust this prime minister with power? It seems to me to be obvious that the Speaker of the House of Commons does not," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said.
NDP deputy leader Libby Davies said her party will also attack the Conservatives for abusing the democratic process in a spring election.
"Whenever the election is, (this) really strikes at the heart of the credibility of this government and whether or not you can trust Stephen Harper," Davies said.
Government House Leader John Baird said after the rulings that Oda would be prepared to answer MPs questions to "clarify" her confusing statements on a decision not to provide government funding to a third-party foreign aid group.
Baird also said that the government would be prepared to reconsider the amount of information it is willing to release about the cost of its crime package.