Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin launched a winter election campaign Tuesday, a day after his minority Liberal Party government lost a vote of confidence over a corruption scandal.

Martin spoke to Governor General Michaelle Jean -- the country's ceremonial head of state and representative of Queen Elizabeth II -- to have Parliament formally dissolved and set the vote for Jan. 23.

It was the fifth time in Canadian history that a minority government had been toppled by the opposition, in this case because of a scandal over kickbacks to prominent Liberal Party members in Quebec from a federal sponsorship program.

Martin accused the opposition of cynicism and said it brought down the government for no good reason.

"A minority Parliament means the opposition can force an election whenever it chooses. In this case, I believe ambition has overwhelmed common sense," he told reporters in a rain outside Rideau Hall, the governor general's residence.

The Liberals, who have governed for most of the time since Canada was founded in 1867, are seeking their fifth consecutive term since the Conservative Party was defeated in 1993.

In his campaign, Martin is expected to deflect attention from the scandal by pointing out that he was personally exonerated by a judicial inquiry and seek to show that the Liberals are the party of the future.

All three opposition parties have said they will focus on clean government in their campaigns, but they also must introduce ideas to persuade the public they are not just anything-but-Liberals.

Stephen Harper, the Conservative Party leader, vied with Martin to present an image of hope and referred repeatedly to the need for change after 12 years of Liberal rule, a sentiment increasingly reflected in national opinion polls.

"On Jan. 23, you will finally be able to hold the Liberals accountable for stealing your money, accountable for breaking your trust and accountable for failing to deliver on your priorities," Harper said in televised comments.

The other two opposition parties, the separatist Bloc Quebecois and the left-leaning New Democratic Party, are expected to gain enough seats to prevent either the Liberals or the Conservatives from getting a majority in Parliament.

Opinion polls give the Liberals a lead of 5 to 6 percentage points over the Conservatives, the only other party that is seen as having a chance of forming a government.

But the Liberals are supported by only 35 to 36 percent of the voters, shy of the 40 percent that is seen as a minimum to win a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons.