OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Liberals, softening their stance on toppling the minority Conservative government, will side with the ruling party next week on a key financial vote, averting an election.
The Liberals said this fall they had lost confidence in the government and would vote against it even if that meant an early election. The Conservatives require the support of at least one opposition party in Parliament to stay in power.
But a senior Liberal source said on Friday his party would vote for what is called the Estimates, a measure whose defeat would trigger an election.
"We will vote for the Estimates because it allows the government to pay its bills -- not of the same nature as a budget," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"As for the future, we will see what they come up with and act responsibly -- as we always do!"
In early September, the Liberals came swinging out of a caucus meeting, saying they would introduce a non-confidence motion, or vote against the government on confidence matters.
That strategy backfired with the electorate, which did not want another election just a year after the last one, particularly at a time of fragile economic recovery. Afterwards the Liberals fell sharply behind the Conservatives in the polls.
By October the Liberals backed down slightly by saying they would not necessarily move their own confidence motions. But they still said they would vote against the government when confidence issues like the Estimates came up.
A pledge to "act responsibly" seems to indicate that the party will now take each vote on its merits.
The Liberals are one of three opposition parties, all of which have faced the awkward decision whether to back the government and risk criticism as a weak and ineffective opposition, or to vote against it on confidence matters, leading to an unpopular election.
The left-wing New Democratic Party had voted with the government since September to see more generous jobless benefits introduced. But it said recently that its support on confidence matters was no longer a certainty.
The Conservatives lead the Liberals in recent polls by about 10 percentage points, pointing to another Conservative minority government if an election took place now.
Parliament adjourns at the end of next week until late January, so an election is virtually impossible before March. Many say no election is likely before late next year.
Editing by Janet Guttsman and Frank McGurty