TORONTO – Prime Minister Paul Martin's (search) minority government survived the first in a slew of confidence votes late Tuesday, easing the risk that Canada's government could fall.
With the support of the Bloc Quebecois (search) and the New Democratic Party (search), Martin's Liberals easily defeated the opposition Conservative Party in a vote on a spending bill, 206 to 96. That is just one of about 15 bills being voted on in late-night marathon session in the House of Commons.
House of Commons Leader Tony Valeri said earlier Tuesday that he expected Martin's Liberals to survive the confidence marathon even though the opposition Conservative Party and its Quebec allies have more seats.
He said the Liberals would dissolve the House of Commons and call for new elections if any of the confidence votes were lost.
Again, it could be the four Independent members of Parliament who will decide the fate of Martin's year-old government, which survived a razor-thin vote of confidence May 19, after a tie-breaking vote by Speaker Peter Milliken (search).
The Conservatives have tried to take down the Liberals by seizing on a federal inquiry that has revealed millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks and money laundering by a Liberal Party program to promote national unity.
Martin has argued that his first task when he came to power last year was to demand a federal investigation into the allegations of wrongdoing by those involved in the program to promote federalism in French-speaking Quebec.
Many Conservative MPs know their constituents are not eager for new elections and polls have shown support for the Conservatives slipping dramatically.
The House of Commons has been working overtime in an effort to get the federal budget passed before the summer recess that was to begin on June 9 and is now slated for Friday.
The main budgetary appropriation bill is up for a vote, as is the Liberals' contentious budget deal with the New Democrats calling for $3.6 billion in additional social spending. The Tories may also introduce amendments to the budget bills, including one to reduce money for a federal gun registry.
Pat O'Brien, one of the four Independent members of Parliament, quit the Liberals last week over his opposition to a gay marriage bill, and his vote Tuesday could be key.
With his defection, there are now 151 Liberals and New Democrat allies in the 308-member House. The opposition Conservatives and their allies have a combined 152 seats. There are four Independents and the Liberal speaker of the House who only votes in a tie.