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June 24, 2005
Martin Pulls Off Another Political High-Wire Trick

Prime Minister Paul Martin reached into his parliamentary bag of tricks again last night and outfoxed Tory leader Stephen Harper, allowing the Liberals to set a late-night vote on a crucial budget amendment that keeps them in control of the government:

The contentious budget amendment bill passed 152 to 147 in the House of Commons Thursday in a late-night, snap vote.

In a move that caught the Conservative opposition off guard, Liberal House Leader Tony Valeri proposed a rarely-used time allocation motion in the House of Commons, cutting off debate on Bill C-48.

The motion passed easily. And as the clock ticked close to midnight ET, MPs voted on the bill's third and final reading. ... "It bushwhacked the Conservatives. They didn't see this coming," said CTV's Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife.

Martin took advantage of a rarely-used procedure to call the vote unexpectedly at 11:30 PM. He also managed to peel Bloc Quebecois away from Harper to get the procedural motion past the stunned and short-handed Conservatives, who erupted in anger and frustration at both their Liberal foes and their supposed BQ allies. Harper and his deputy Peter McKay didn't mince words:

"When push comes to shove, the Liberals will make any deal with anybody,'' said Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. "And it doesn't matter whether it's with the socialists or with the separatists or any bunch of crooks they can find.''

"They'll do anything they have to do to win," added Conservative deputy leader Peter MacKay. He described the manoeuvre as "a menage a trois between separatists, socialists and power-hungry Liberals."

The BQ probably went along with Martin and NDP leader Jack Layton in order to avoid summer elections. With the Liberals recovering their primacy in national polling, BQ probably would prefer to avoid the rare summer campaign in favor of a longer-range strategy to bolster their own standing in Quebec. Before this week, Giles Duceppe may have safely assumed that Harper felt the same way. After all, Harper saw the same polling numbers and had already announced plans to hit the trail in an effort to improve his image with Canadian voters.

However, at the start of the week, that suddenly seemed to change. With C-48 waving in front of them like a red cape, the Tories appeared to transform into the Toros and charged, announcing their intention to attempt a no-confidence motion that would force new elections. As last night's hastily-arranged deal demonstrates, BQ obviously disagreed with Harper's strategy.

For the Tories, it means another trip to the drawing board, and yet another battle in which Harper finds himself outgeneraled by Martin. That cannot help Harper in building confidence in his leadership for his fellow Conservative MPs.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 24, 2005 6:48 AM

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