Although the prospects of having a snap election remain unclear, Canada's political parties are starting up their campaign machines, provoking a tense battle atmosphere that has not been uncommon in the country during the past few years.
Leader of the biggest opposition group the Liberal Party Michael Ignatieff on Tuesday vowed to defeat the minority Conservative government at the first opportunity in the next session of the Parliament, raising the possibility of an election in fall. If that happens, Canadians would go to the polls the fourth time in five years.
To survive the Liberal challenge, the government would need the support of one of the other two oppositions. However, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Thursday he would not seek any "backroom deals" with other parties, increasing the chances of his government's fall.
In fact, an election now almost seems certain as the political parties have all geared up their campaign machines, though on the surface they are still working to spare Canadians from going to the polling station, less than a year after the 2008 federal election.
Sources say the Liberals are appointing staff to campaign posts and preparing to affix election signs to buses that would ferry Ignatieff around on the hustings. Liberal television ads featuring the new slogan were already unveiled to caucus. Staff are also wiring up computers for their campaign war room and preparing to hold a candidates' college.
The Liberals are pledging "a more compassionate and competent government" to lead the country into "the economy of tomorrow." They accused the government of incurring a huge deficit and failing to deal with the financial crisis properly.
Since Ignatieff took over the Liberal leadership in December, support for the party has increased to the same level as the Conservatives. The Liberals have also gained ground in key battlegrounds as Ontario and Quebec.
Having raised enough funding, the Liberals feel they now have the strength to pull the trigger on the election. The party has often been mocked by other parties for propping up the Conservative government in a number of confidence votes in the past few years, particularly under the leadership of Stephane Dion.
The Conservatives have also chosen to face up to the Liberal challenge. Harper announced on Thursday that the government would put forward a confidence motion on stimulus budget in the parliament and will pass it "with or without election." The government motion could bring a vote as early as Sept. 14, and its failure would lead to its automatic collapse.
Harper also ruled out an agreement with the New Democratic Party (NDP), whose leader Jack Layton had expressed willingness to prop up the Conservatives should their key agenda are satisfied.
The NDP wish list includes reform on pension and employment insurance as well as regulating credit-card interests. Conservative sources say much of that is outside their party' political comfort zone, making a partnership impossible.
Officials say the Conservatives are also moving for a campaign. They have paid a deposit allowing them to charter a jet on short notice and are preparing to ramp up staffing at their Ottawa campaign war room. Campaign planning meetings have also been held.
Although still hoping for an agreement with the government, NDP national party director Brad lavigne said his party is now on "high alert for election preparation" even as it prefers to avoid one. Plane and ground transportation have already been secured and campaign narrative will be unveiled, according to national newspaper The Globe and Mail.
Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe has also expressed willingness to bring down the government if it failed to deliver on its priorities, stressing the interest of Quebec is what he only cares about. The party has consistently voted down the government in confidence motions.
Analysts say the earliest election date would be in mid-October. If the government survives the budget vote, the Liberals will put forward a non-confidence motion against it on Oct. 1, making mid-November another possible election date.
The Conservatives were elected back to the minority government during the October 2008 election. With only 143 seats in the 308-seat Parliament, they need the support of at least one opposition to survive.