As expected, the House of Commons has passed a federal budget amendment that the Liberals had demanded in order for them to support the budget itself.
MPs voted 214 to 84 in favour of the budget amendment on Monday evening, with the NDP and Bloc Québécois voting against it. The outcome wasn't surprising given that the Harper government said last Wednesday it would support the amendment.
The amendment, which Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff presented as a motion last Wednesday during debate on the budget in the Commons, will require regular reports to Parliament on the budget's implementation and costs. The reports are expected in March, June and December.
Each report would be an opportunity for the opposition to express confidence in the government, Ignatieff said last week.
In tabling the budget last Tuesday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty promised billions of dollars in new spending — ranging from money for infrastructure projects to aid for worker training and cash for enhanced employment insurance benefits — to help the country ride out the global economic slump.
The budget plan predicts a federal deficit of $33.7 billion for the 2009-10 fiscal year and $29.8 billion the following year.
With the NDP and the Bloc set to vote against the budget, the Conservatives require the support of Ignatieff's Liberals to ensure it passes and prevents a Liberal-NDP coalition from seeking to form a government with the support of the Bloc — or another election.
However, there is growing backlash within the Liberal caucus. Ignatieff was scrambling Monday to appease at least four Liberal MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador, who say the budget singles out their province and robs it of an estimated $1.6 billion in federal transfer payments.
Liberal MPs Scott Andrews, Siobhan Coady, Judy Foote and Scott Simms said they'll break party ranks and vote against the budget on Tuesday if the document isn't changed.
The brewing backlash is an early test of new leader Ignatieff's resolve to instill discipline in his notoriously fractious caucus.
Ignatieff was talking to Premier Danny Williams and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a bid to find some resolution to the issue, insiders said. He also spoke to Harper again Monday night.