Fresh from hip surgery, New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton has stoked Ottawa's election fever, saying he sees no sign Prime Minister Stephen Harper will deliver a budget that the NDP can support.
The three opposition parties appear to be set to bring down the Conservatives, who celebrated their fifth year as a minority government in January and plan to unveil their sixth budget next week.
While the Liberals have made no bones about wanting to force a general election, both the New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois have said they would support the budget if it included a shopping list of new spending.
But Mr. Layton doesn't expect Mr. Harper to meet the NDP demands.
An election call is "still Mr. Harper's choice," the NDP leader told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.
"I'd rather get something done in that budget for Canadians and I think Canadians would prefer that too. But we just don't see any sign there is much of a willingness by Mr. Harper, unfortunately," he said.
The Prime Minister insists he is not looking to force an unwanted election, saying - as Mr. Layton did - that Canadians want the government to work on sustaining the recovery and creating jobs.
But the Conservatives added to election speculation on the weekend when two key cabinet members and a veteran MP announced they would not be running in the next election. Treasury Board Secretary Stockwell Day, Transport Minister Chuck Strahl and veteran MP John Cummins announced their intention to step down.
With the anticipated post-budget, non-confidence motion, the MPs were asked to declare their future intentions, Mr. Day told CTV. The party will have to quickly organize nomination contests in the three B.C. ridings, all of which were won handily by the Conservatives in the last several elections.
"In discussions with the Prime Minister, we wanted to be close enough to what we think might be an election, even though we don't want to see an election," Mr. Day said. "We think we should stay focused on jobs, on the economy, but with the sounds that the opposition leaders are making, it appears that they might be trying to force an election."
Mr. Layton said he is ready to go if need be, despite having suffered from prostate cancer and having surgery 10 days ago to repair his hip.
The NDP has demanded the Conservative budget include spending to enrich senior benefits, eliminated federal sale tax on home heating fuels and an expansion of the Canada Pension Plan. The Conservatives are promising an austere budget that reduces spending, brings down the deficit over time and locks in previously announced corporate tax cuts.
As well, Mr. Layton said the government's disregard for Parliament, and willingness to resort to deception are adding fuel to the partisan fires.
He noted the Commons Speaker Peter Milliken ruled the government was in contempt of Parliament for failing to provide costing on a slew of tough-on-crime bills, and for a finding that Bev Oda, minister for Canadian International Development Agency, misled the House.
"That was a very strong indictment of this government and really does present the situation that you can't trust them with our democracy," Mr. Layton said.