Dateline: September 27, 2006.
OTTAWA--Political analysts have described it as the most tumultuous and bitter Parliament in Canada's history. L'Affaire Lac Mistassini brought it to a clamourous end today with a vote of non-confidence, meaning Canadians will be going to the polls for a second time in 2006.
Amid raucous shouts from the Conservative bench of "traitor" with every opposition member standing to vote down the minority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, House Speaker Lee Richardson made several attempts to call for order, but was roundly ignored.
As expected, fledgling New Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff introduced the confidence vote that has been threatening since the french-language Radio-Canada-TVA joint exclusive first reported last month on then-secret U.S. military test bases being planned in the north of Quebec, land that is home to thousands of Cree and other First Nations peoples.
Critics say Lac Mistassini could also derail any future plans to expand Quebec's extensive hydro-electric capacity, since the lease agreement is for 50 years, with the United States holding an exclusive option to renew for another 40 years at any time.
Foreign Affairs Minister Jason Kenney received repeated calls for his resignation from oppostition MPs, and was loudly heckled on Monday when he defended the lease agreement as a victory for his team's "tenacious" negotiations, saying the Bush administration had originally requested a one-time 80-year lease on the land.
Harper, with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Quebec Premier Jean Charest by his side in the Parliamentary Press Galery, yesterday made a last ditch appeal to Bloq Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe to save his government, by sweetening the pot of monetary transfers to Quebec from the lucrative deal cut by Kenney.
"We have a deal. It's a good deal for Canada and it's in our shared interest, in this North American fortress, if you will, to keep normal and productive relations with our neighbours, who I think deserve our humble gratitude for their willingness to protect us," Harper said.
But attempts to quell the outrage over the controversial deal, which would see some 14,000 square kilometres in the north of Quebec used as a testing ground for the as yet unproven Ballistic Missile Defence system, could not match the political weight of popular sentiment in Quebec, where massive union protests effectively shut down the province for three days last week, and over 80% of Quebecers say they are against the idea.
"First we had the Liberals trying to buy Quebecers with their own money; now we see the Conservatives trying to buy Quebecers with George Bush's money," Duceppe said to reporters after the vote.
"Mr. Kenney and Mr. Harper were clearly hoping to slip this in under the radar while people were on their summer vacations. Perhaps they thought Canadians would be happy counting the pennies they're saving here and there from the GST cut. But while it's certainly in Canadians' best interests to work very closely with our American allies, this deal, and the ham-handed way it was handled by this neophyte Harper government, just proved today they simply do not have the confidence of the House. That's why we're going back to the polls." Ignatieff said.
An emboldened NDP leader Jack Layton expanded on earlier remarks that the Harper government is a puppet of the Bush administration.
"Nobody wants to be a sell-out, and that's all this is, really, the selling-out of our First Nations, of Quebec and their future, the future of clean energy in Canada, and Quebecers' opportunities to develop their own natural resources. And for what? To help forward George Bush's plans to weaponize space?
"Quebecers won't take that sitting down. All Canadians won't take that sitting down. And it may have Mr. Harper's signature on it, but this sweetheart deal was never brought before the House, and it will not be binding".
Charest has also been under fire for initially signalling his acceptance of the deal, although he has backtracked in recent days, facing a continued slide in the polls that have now put his government's approval rating below 15%.
Governor-General Michaele Jean is expected to drop the writ upon receiving Prime Minister Harper at her residence sometime tomorrow.
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