House passes motion sidetracking Liberals' RESP bill

The House of Commons passed a budget motion that effectively thwarts a Liberal-sponsored bill promising education savings.

The House of Commons passed a budget motion that effectively thwarts a Liberal-sponsored bill promising education savings.

Members of Parliament voted 124-87 in favour of a ways and means motion that overrides a private member's bill that a united opposition pushed through the House last week.

The bill, introduced by Liberal MP Dan McTeague, would allow parents to contribute up to $5,000 a year for each child to a registered education savings plan and deduct the amount from their income taxes.

In an unusual move, the Conservatives introduced a budget-related ways and means motion and included provisions that effectively nullified  the Liberal bill.

Tories argued the bill would have cost the treasury an estimated $900 million and would have caused a deficit.

In Thursday's confidence vote, Conservative MPs supported the ways and means motion while NDP and Bloc Québécois members opposed it. A handful of Liberals — including leader Stéphane Dion and McTeague — also opposed the budget motion.

But many Liberals abstained to keep from defeating the motion that would have brought down the minority government.

The Liberals noted that Thursday's vote didn't kill the RESP measure and that they'll have another opportunity to vote on it when the House considers the budget implementation bill this spring.

House Speaker allowed the vote to go ahead

Liberals had argued that the Conservatives' budget motion overriding the education bill was out of order since the bill had already been dealt with in the House and was before the Senate.

But House Speaker Peter Milliken ruled in favour of the government earlier in the day and allowed the vote to proceed.

Milliken noted that MPs will have another chance to review the education savings issue once the related budget implementation legislation is studied by the House finance committee next month.

Earlier in the day, government House leader Peter Van Loan held a press conference daring the Liberals to put the education savings plan to the public in an election and questioning how they would pay for it.

"Mr. Dion does not get a free pass here," Van Loan said. "There is too much at stake. We will not let Liberal political games push Canada back into deficit."

The Liberals have said they're not willing to topple the government before Easter weekend but may reconsider their position in April, once the results of the four byelections scheduled for Monday are known.

With files from the Canadian Press