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May 17, 2005
Harper, Tories To Pass Budget, Oppose NDP Amendment

After the surprise defection of Belinda Stronach sent a shock wave through Canadian politics, the Conservative Party recast its electoral strategy for Thursday's vote. Instead of following the Liberal Party strategy that allows Martin to contest the confidence vote on the entire budget, Stephen Harper has instructed the Tories to pass the main budget and instead contest the amendment containing the agreement that brought Jack Layton and the NDP into alliance with Martin:

The Conservatives will vote in support of the federal budget, but will still try to defeat the Liberal minority government on separate legislation that proposes $4.6 billion in spending on housing and the environment, Tory Leader Stephen Harper announced Tuesday night.

"It's our intention to support Bill C-43, the original budget," Harper said, looking tired after a long day for the Conservative frontman that included the surprise defection of high-profile former leadership contender Belinda Stronach.

"We'll oppose Bill C-48, which was the deal with the NDP, which is complete irresponsible fiscal policy," Harper added.

The second bill was the result of efforts by the Liberals to win the support of the NDP. Both bills are scheduled for a vote on Thursday.

Ironically, Stronach's defection may have forced Harper into a smarter strategy. Martin's budget had gained popular support even among some Tories, although they indicated support for Harper and his no-confidence effort. However, Harper now has to recognize that the budget may wind up working against him for the upcoming vote, and that the attraction may yet pull away the independents he needs to win a no-confidence vote and bring down the Liberals.

The amendment, which all sides agree amounts to a separate confidence vote, really presents the crux of the Tory argument against continued Liberal rule. Martin used the amendment to buy NDP votes in a similar manner as his party used the Sponsorship Program to buy influence and launder money for party purposes. The main budget has many programs with widespread support, but the amendment only really benefits Jack Layton and his handful of deputies, meaning that targeting that legislation won't result in a backlash among his own caucus. It may also result in a few Liberals considering an abandonment of Martin, as the amendment does little to help their own causes, except for continued power for Paul Martin.

Most importantly, the amendments do almost nothing for the independents on whom Harper must rely for assistance to toss out Martin and force new elections. The primary budget had a lot to offer Cadman and Kilgour, but the amendment does nothing for them, and they can vote against it without worrying what they'll get with a Tory budget in its place. If they have an inclination to jettison Liberal rule -- and Kilgour already indicated he did -- then the amendment gives them the best opportunity to pull the trigger.

Lastly, the new strategy forces the election off of the budget, which Martin would prefer to argue, and onto the amendment he used to buy off Jack Layton. It cuts very close to the heart of the Adscam scandal and shows the power-grasping desperation Martin has displayed since its exposure. The change puts the focus of the election, if Harper succeeds, back on Liberal corruption instead of mundane budget issues.

If Harper succeeds on Thursday, that is. His chances got slimmer today with Stornach's defection, but the change may have allowed him to win the larger battle.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 17, 2005 10:06 PM

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