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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's minority Conservative government easily survived a budget vote on Friday, as expected, but it now needs to find a way of dealing with a more threatening non-confidence motion expected early next month.
Legislators voted 224-74 to approve a routine motion authorizing budget spending. Had the government lost the vote, Canada would have been tipped into its second election in a year and the fourth in just over five years.
Two opposition parties -- the left-leaning New Democrats and the separatist Bloc Quebecois -- had said beforehand they would not bring down the Conservatives over the budget vote.
That still leaves the Conservatives facing a non-confidence motion that the main opposition Liberals say they will present soon because they have lost confidence in the government's handling of the economy.
Polls show the Conservatives would most likely gain another minority if an election were held now. They won minorities in January 2006 and October 2008.
The Conservative government needs the backing of at least one opposition party to stay in power and somewhat bizarrely its best bet right now is the New Democratic Party, normally among Prime Minister Stephen Harper's toughest critics.
NDP leader Jack Layton, his party dropping in the polls, welcomed draft legislation this week that would boost benefits for the unemployed and he hinted his party would keep the Conservatives in power until the measure was approved by Parliament.
A final vote on the extended jobless benefits would come well after the Liberals' proposed non-confidence motion, suggesting the New Democrats could continue keep the government alive for now.
Layton's decision to back the benefits legislation was controversial and some of his legislators now sound less enthusiastic about the measures.
But Layton stuck to his position after Friday's budget vote, saying he wanted to act in defense of unemployed people who needed more help.
"We feel it's very important that that money be received by those who are really struggling right now," he told reporters.
Liberal legislators jeered the New Democrats as they stood up in the House of Commons to vote in favor of the budget motion. The New Democrats have in the past vehemently attacked the Liberals for backing the Conservatives on crucial votes.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson