The House of Commons has just passed Jack Layton's motion calling on Paul Martin to seek a dissolution of Parliament in January for a February 13 election by 167 to 129.
The way is now cleared for Stephen Harper's non-confidence motion to be tabled Thursday and passed next Monday.
Lost in all of the arguing over what language constitutes a proper non-confidence vote is the unexpected evolution of a new constitutional convention: fixed election dates.
Paul Martin inadvertently created it when he pledged to call an election within 30 days of the Gomery report's release. Jack Layton has moved it along with this unprecedented motion to fix an election date three months in advance. And the Conservatives and Bloc have helped it pass into being.
For the first time, Parliament has voted to set dates for the dissolution of Parliament and an election, instead of them being set at the Prime Minister's prerogative. Even if Paul Martin doesn't recognize this current vote, the precedent has been set, and future votes will be easier to pass and harder to ignore.
Fixed election dates have long been seen as a way to prevent the Prime Minister from manipulating Parliament and the timing of elections to favour the party in power. No doubt that was the last thing Paul Martin wanted when he made his televised plea for clemency back in April with what he probably considered a throw-away line.
But from such ordinary turns of political circumstance have constitutional conventions evolved before, and will continue to evolve.