TORONTO, April 21 -- Prime Minister Paul Martin on Thursday promised to call a new federal election late this year or early next year, 30 days after a federal judge finishes an inquiry into a political scandal that Martin said was "an unjustified mess."
But opposition political parties, which could combine to bring down Martin's government, rejected his appeal for time, leaving open the possibility of forcing an earlier vote.
"Our party will make those decisions in our own way and in our own time," said Stephen Harper, leader of the main opposition Conservative Party. He called Martin's rare televised address to the nation a "sad spectacle" of "a leader so burdened with corruption he is unable to do his job."
Martin's Liberal Party is struggling in the polls as testimony continues in Montreal over political payoffs, kickbacks and favoritism in a public relations program started by his Liberal Party predecessor, former prime minister Jean Chretien.
Martin has not been implicated in the scandal, and he appealed for credit for ending the program, firing the public works director involved, sponsoring new whistle-blower legislation and beginning the judicial inquiry.
"I am sorry we weren't more vigilant," he said of his party. But he added that voters deserve to hear the final report of the judicial inquiry -- not expected until November or December -- before going to the polls.
"Canadians deserve a full and frank account of all the facts," Martin said. It was the first time in a decade a prime minister has asked to make a nationwide televised address.
Harper said the public should not have to wait. "How can we continue to prop up a government that is under criminal investigation?" he asked in a response televised immediately after Martin spoke.