TORONTO – Prime Minister Paul Martin (search) survived a razor-thin vote of confidence Thursday, allowing him to retain power and ending one of Canada's most dramatic political standoffs in decades.
The House of Commons split 152-152 on the measure that served as a confidence motion and it took a vote by the parliament speaker to give the minority government its one-vote victory.
"The margin of tonight's vote is very narrow — indeed that is an understatement," said Martin. It was the first time in Canadian history that a speaker has broken a tie on a confidence vote.
"We must now move forward in a spirit of cooperation. We ask the opposition to join with us in a renewed effort to make this Parliament work for the people of Canada," he said.
Independent legislator Chuck Cadman (search) cast a key vote when he sided with the Liberals after keeping mum for weeks about which way he would go.
Though the chamber easily passed the Liberal Party's budget by a vote of 250-54, it was an amendment to the federal document that served as the test of confidence.
The House of Commons has been paralyzed for weeks with the opposition Conservative Party obstructing business through motions to adjourn and demands that Martin resign. The opposition latched on to a corruption scandal within Martin's Liberal Party, insisting he no longer had enough support to continue to govern.
Martin is not implicated in the money laundering scandal. Shortly after taking office in June, he launched a federal investigation into a national unity fund that allegedly allowed senior Liberals to funnel millions of dollars into their Quebec coffers.
He has pledged to call elections within 30 days of the commission's report, which is expected at the end of the year.
"While I regret this decision deeply, it has shown now more than ever the necessity for a strong, united and principled opposition dedicated to replacing this government," said Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
Martin last week called for a motion on his proposed budget and said it would stand as an official test of confidence in his 11-month minority government. If the budget had failed, Martin would have been forced to dissolve Parliament and trigger elections that polls have shown are widely unwanted by the Canadian people.
Martin came out of a Cabinet meeting just hours before the vote and said Canadian's relations with the United States would remain high on his agenda, if allowed to remain in power.
Martin's budget calls for an injection of $10.6 million to overhaul Canada's beleaguered military, a demand long sought by Washington and Canada's European allies, so that it can play a bigger role in securing the U.S.-Canadian border and peacekeeping efforts worldwide. It would also upgrade the country's anti-terrorism efforts.
Canada has pledged to tighten its borders after Sept. 11 but has declined to send troops to Iraq or sign on to the U.S. missile defense shield.
Washington and Ottawa have been embroiled in disputes over softwood lumber tariffs and a ban on Canadian beef.
"I want Canadians to know that we really need to find a better way to solve our disputes," Martin said Thursday about working with Washington.