A Conservative effort to hold a confidence vote by May 18 was approved by the House of Commons on Thursday - but it took the Liberals just minutes to brush it aside. Constitutional experts say precedents in Canadian parliamentary history offer little direction as Prime Minister Paul Martin's government lurches toward a crisis.
House Leader Tony Valeri insisted the motion is simply a procedural matter that has no binding effect on the government.
"There is no non-confidence motion," Valeri said. Moments earlier, the Commons Speaker endorsed the Conservative motion, which calls on the government to resign.
"This is merely an instruction to a committee," said Valeri.
The motion asked the Commons Finance committee "to recommend that the government resign."
The Liberals are not above stealing taxpayers' money to fund their election campaigns. They would certainly not be above ignoring centuries of parliamentary and constitutional practice to hold on to power.
Should this motion pass, and the Liberals ignore it, we may have a genuine constitutional crisis on our hands. The government of the day will have lost the confidence of the House, yet it will be clinging to power unconstitutionally.
The Governor General would almost certainly have to intervene, whether to call on Stephen Harper to form a government, or to dissolve Parliament and call an election.
But supposing that the Governor General, a Liberal partisan appointee herself, also ignores her constitutional duty?
At that point, the system will have broken down, with barely a shrug from the people.