Government survives 2 confidence votes

By a razor-thin margin, Paul Martin's minority government survived a confidence vote late Thursday afternoon, staving off a snap election.

By a razor-thin margin, Paul Martin's minority government survived a confidence vote late Thursday afternoon, staving off a snap election.

With the support of Independent MP Chuck Cadman, the House voted evenly 152 to 152 on Bill C-48, an amendment to the budget that adds $4.6 billion in social program spending and delays corporate tax cuts.

That left Speaker of the House Peter Milliken, who is a Liberal MP, to break the tie and vote for the budget. The Speaker only votes in the event of a tie.

"The parliamentary precedents are clear," Milliken told the chamber after the 152-152 vote count was announced.

"The Speaker should vote, whenever possible, for continuation of debate on a question that cannot be decided by the House."

If the amendment had failed, Martin would have asked the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call a general election likely for the end of June, only a year after the last election, in June 2004.

"We must move forward now in a spirit of cooperation." Martin said after the vote. "In turn, we ask the opposition to join with us, to make this parliament work."

The amendment was one of two-non-confidence votes that could have toppled Martin's government.

But there was little drama over the result of the Liberal's budget bill, Bill C-43, as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper had already said his party would vote in favour.

It was expected the second non-confidence vote would be decided by a couple votes.

With the defection of former Tory MP Belinda Stronach to the Liberal fold, the Liberal-NDP coalition on the budget amendment totalled 150 votes leading up to the vote – one fewer than the Conservative-Bloc Québécois coalition.

(Liberal MP Peter Adams agreed to sit out the vote as a courtesy because cancer surgery was keeping Conservative MP Darrel Stinson away from the House of Commons.)

Independent MP Carolyn Parrish, a former Liberal, had said she would support the budget, giving the Liberals 151 votes.

Earlier Thursday, Independent MP David Kilgour had confirmed he would vote against the amendment, meaning all eyes were focused on Cadman.

Cadman had said that he wanted to hear from his constituents before making a final decision on how he would vote. But after a recent poll of 600 eligible voters in his riding of Surrey North indicated two-thirds of respondents didn't want an election, he had hinted that he would support the budget.

Cadman said he made up his mind to support the government only a half hour before the vote.

"I started in 1997 as a Reformer and that was one of the basic tenets: put your constituents before anything else," he said.

"There was a lot of elements in the budget that would serve my constituents in my riding."

While the Liberals won Thursday's battle to remain in power, the Conservatives could use an opposition day slated for May 31 to try and topple the government.

But the Liberals are expected to win a May 24 byelection in Newfoundland which would give the government another seat.