OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada seemed set to avoid an early election for a second time this month after the small New Democratic Party (NDP) said on Wednesday it would keep the minority Conservative government in power
The left-leaning NDP said it would ensure the government does not fall in a confidence vote in Parliament on Thursday so that legislation providing C$1 billion ($930 million) in added jobless benefits can pass.
The non-confidence motion is being put forward by the Liberals, the biggest opposition party. If it were to pass, an election would be held later this autumn, the fourth since 2004.
“We’re certainly not going to allow a motion from the Liberal Party to put a stop to a billion dollars that people across the country who are out of work are counting on us to deliver to them,” NDP leader Jack Layton said after a caucus meeting.
The House of Commons will vote on the Liberal motion on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. EDT.
The Conservatives have only a minority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons and must rely on the support of at least one opposition party to remain in power. NDP support also helped the government through a confidence test on September 18.
Some Liberals may actually be breathing a sigh of relief that the NDP is preventing a quick election as their party has taken a sudden dive in opinion polls. The Conservatives, on the other hand, may now prefer to have a quick election to try to capitalize on their polling lead and shoot for a majority.
Since the Liberals decided a month ago to stop propping up the government, they have moved from a rough tie with the Conservatives in the polls to about 7 percentage points behind.
Things can change rapidly in a campaign, but as of now, polls show another minority Conservative government would be the most likely result of an election.
The Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, came to power in 2006 and won a strengthened minority in the October 2008 general election.
Early this month, the Liberals decided they needed to stop supporting the government to avoid the embarrassment of lambasting the Conservatives in debate but then voting for them in Parliament.
The NDP, the smallest of the three opposition parties, now faces that same delicate dance. Layton would not say what tactic his party would employ to keep the government in power.
An aide said the NDP’s options were to vote against the Liberal motion; to have some members vote for it but not enough to have it pass; to have members be absent from the House of Commons; or to be present but abstain. Each option prevents an election.
Further confidence tests will continue to appear. The government introduced a budget bill on Wednesday implementing a popular home renovation tax credit and a first-time home buyers’ credit. The NDP and the separatist Bloc Quebecois, backed the government on those measures in the September 18 vote and are expected to again, leaving the Conservatives in power for now.
The government also said on Wednesday it intended to introduce another financial motion to collect lumber export taxes to comply with a trade decision involving a dispute with the United States. But it said that would not become a confidence issue because it would not proceed without opposition support.
Editing by Peter Galloway and Rob Wilson