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Canadian government survives confidence vote

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin receives a standing ovation from his ministers and MP’s as he takes his seat for a budget vote in the House of Commons in Ottawa. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

It was a squeaker — by just one vote — but the Liberal government still stands, and with it a chance to pass the country-wide gay marriage measure. Unless, of course, the Conservatives, led by Stephen Harper intend to try this nonsense again.

Prime Minister Paul Martin, badly damaged by a corruption scandal, was saved when an independent legislator chose at the very last moment to back the government over its budget. Chuck Cadman‘s decision gave the Liberals and their allies 152 votes, the same number as the opposition Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois. The Liberal speaker of Parliament broke the tie by backing the government.

“The House (of Commons) has expressed its confidence in the government,” Martin told Parliament to boos, catcalls and raucous laughter from opposition legislators.

The vote ended a month-long drama that started when the Conservatives and the Bloc said a corruption scandal meant the Liberal government must go. The scandal centers on misused government funds, and allegations of kickbacks to senior Liberals in return for federal advertising contracts.

Martin’s victory was something of a political miracle because until two days before the vote, he did not look to have enough support to prevent the Liberals from being ousted after 12 years in power. Political parties had chartered planes to take off on Friday for the start of campaigning for a late June or early July election. Those plans will be put on hold now.

But on Tuesday leading Conservative legislator Belinda Stronach defected unexpectedly to the Liberals, a move which gave the government the extra backing it needed.

The Conservatives of Stephen Harper must now decide whether to call a truce until a new session of Parliament starts in September or whether to keep trying to bring Martin down before the current session ends in mid-June.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding