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NDP Leader Jack Layton, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are show in a photo combination voting for the minority Conservative government's budget motion in the House of Commons on Sept. 18, 2009.

The Canadian Press

The Conservative government survived a confidence test Friday morning - as expected - thanks to the support of MPs from the Bloc Québécois and NDP.

The 224-74 vote approves a ways-and-means motion that contains measures tied to the January, 2009, budget.

Following today's vote, Michael Ignatieff said it felt good to vote no-confidence in the Conservative government for the first time as Leader of the Opposition.

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"Personally, it felt like the right thing to do," he said. The Liberal Leader also said he still intends to move a no-confidence motion when his party has its first opposition day in the first week of October.

Both the Bloc and the NDP originally opposed the budget and the first piece of legislation that was connected to it. However, they say this second piece of budget legislation contains specific measures that they can support, especially the home-renovation tax credit.

The NDP has also indicated it is prepared to keep the minority Conservative government afloat until improvements to employment insurance are passed into law. A deal to send Bill C-50, the EI reform legistlation, to committee has yet to be reached.

NDP Leader Jack Layton Layton said New Democrat supporters can get behind his caucus' efforts to avoid an election if it leads to improvements to EI.

"Our supporters prefer that we work for them rather than having an election that no one wants," he said. The NDP leader played down concerns expressed by NDP president Peggy Nash and caucus members like Windsor-area MP Joe Comartin that the government's EI bill will leave out many unemployed workers, particularly in the auto sector.

"Certainly there are thousands of jobless in Canada and we're talking about $1-billion [in improvements]" he said. "It's true there are a lot of people who need help that this legislation will not give them, but we have 12 bills before the House of Commons to try and correct the issues with EI in order to help seasonal workers for example."

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, whose Whitby-Oshawa riding includes many auto workers, said the legislation does help the jobless in that industry. He also said the government is not planning on amending its legislation.

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"The EI changes will help long-tenured workers," he said. "I'm sure its a view that some of the opposition parties have that we always can do more. I hope the opposition parties will work with the government."

The Liberal opposition day motion to defeat the Conservative government will only succeed if it is supported by the NDP or the Bloc.

Mr. Ignatieff at first told reporters Friday that he did not want to play "games" by criticizing the NDP's position, but did later poke fun at his rivals on the opposition benches.

"Jack and Gilles have gone up the hill, and we know how that little fairy tale ends," he said.

But Gilles Duceppe made clear that, in spite of the ways-and-means vote, the NDP is the only party keeping the government in office.

The Bloc Québécois Leader said he cannot support the government's EI bill, which he says does nothing for Quebec's unemployed forestry workers. He also blocked efforts by the other three parties to have the bill sent quickly to committee after a second reading vote.

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He said the only reason the NDP is voting to avoid an election is because the party knows it will lose seats. "They are scared of having an election, period," said Mr. Duceppe. "Look at the polls."

The four parties failed Friday to reach a deal behind the scenes to send the EI bill quickly to committee. Mr. Duceppe said he wants the bill to go straight to committee without a second reading vote. That rare procedural move is unacceptable to the government, because it would give the opposition carte blanch to dramatically change the bill.

Normally, bills are voted on at second reading and then go to a committee for study. A second reading vote is interpreted as an endorsement of the general principles of a bill. It also narrows the scope of amendments that can be made by MPs in committee.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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