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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Opposition legislators said on Friday they were likely to recommend that Parliament censure a cabinet minister for contempt, increasing pressure on an already scandal-hit minority government.
A Parliamentary committee dominated by the opposition grilled International Aid Minister Bev Oda after she gave contradictory reasons for cutting off money to an aid group.
"I find that the minister deliberately misled Parliament and misled the public," said Pat Martin of the New Democrats. "I hope we get the opportunity to return a motion of contempt."
The minority Conservative government faces the prospect of several nonconfidence motions next week and its chances of survival now look smaller than ever.
Polls show the Conservatives would likely win a new election, albeit with another minority. But opposition parties seem confident they can benefit from a string of problems besetting the ruling party, and they seem increasingly ready to combine forces to vote the government out of office.
"I don't know how he's able to put his fingers in the boat because the holes keep popping up... If you live by the lie you'll die by the lie," David McGuinty of the Liberals, the largest opposition party, said of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The ethics discussion is overshadowing the March 22 federal budget. The government, which has only a minority of seats in the House of Commons, needs the backing of one opposition party to pass the legislation and stay in power.
The generally bad mood among Parliamentarians -- on evidence again on Friday -- makes it very unclear if the Conservatives will get that backing.
A recommendation on contempt, to be discussed at a yet-unknown date, would have to be approved by the House of Commons. If it passed, Oda would probably have to quit.
Oda has denied any wrongdoing. Conservative legislator Tom Lukiwski, a member of the committee, said the opposition had been determined to find Oda in contempt from the start.
The Conservatives, who won power in early 2006 on a promise to boost accountability and clean up Ottawa, have suffered a series of recent embarrassments.
This week, police were called in to investigate allegations of misconduct by former top Harper aide Bruce Carson, as well as by a former aide to a cabinet minister. Harper officials say Carson may have broken conflict of interest laws.
McGuinty said most reasonable Canadians were astonished that the prime minister had employed Carson and are "asking profound questions about Mr Harper's judgment
Last month, four Conservative officials were charged with violating financing rules during the 2006 election campaign. Their case will come to trial in June.
The Conservatives say Canadians don't want an election and the government is focused on cementing the country's tentative recovery from recession.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Janet Guttsman and Rob Wilson