Government lives to fight another day

Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:34pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's minority Conservative government easily survived a budget vote on Friday, as expected, but it must now find a way to deal with a more threatening non-confidence motion expected early next month.

Legislators voted 224-74 to authorize budget spending. Had the government lost, Canada would have faced 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 vote.

But the Conservatives still face a non-confidence motion soon from the main opposition Liberals, who say 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 the January 2006 and October 2008 elections, but each time won only a minority of seats in Parliament.

That means the government needs the backing of at least one opposition party to stay in power and somewhat bizarrely its only bet in the confidence vote is the New Democratic Party, normally among the government's toughest critics.

NDP leader Jack Layton, his party dropping steadily in most recent polls, this week hinted his party would keep the Conservatives in power until Parliament approved draft legislation that would boost benefits for the unemployed.

NDP officials expect a final vote on the benefits will be after the Liberals' proposed non-confidence motion, suggesting the New Democrats could keep the government alive.   Continued...

<p>Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper comments on his visit to Capitol Hill in Washington, September 17, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young</p>