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NDP to prop up Tories until EI money flows

New Democratic Party deputy leader and finance critic Thomas Mulcair speaks to reporters after the NDP's weekly caucus meeting on Sept. 16, 2009, in Ottawa.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The NDP say they will vote to prop up the Conservative government this week and for some time - probably through the fall - if the Harper government follows through on promises to expand employment-insurance benefits.

The New Democrats deputy leader, Thomas Mulcair, expressed his party's inclination to keep Stephen Harper's government alive until the employment-insurance money flows.

Speaking to reporters after a Wednesday morning caucus meeting, Mr. Mulcair, said his party wants to back an EI expansion promised by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley - as long as the $1-billion in extra funding is really there when the details come out.

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"What's in her press releases isn't always followed up in the text," Mr. Mulcair said. The bill is to be tabled later today.

A key point is that Mr. Mulcair said that - if the EI reform is as promised - the NDP will try to keep the Parliament alive long enough to ensure the money flows. That would mean passing it through three votes in the Commons, then the Senate, and probably until any possibility of a fall election has passed.

If the sums announced and the number of people affected are what the Tories promised, "we will be consistent with ourselves," and keep the Parliament open until the money flows, he said.

Mr. Harper's government was already guaranteed to survive the week, since the Bloc Québécois said Tuesday that it will vote with the government on a ways-and-means motion - a money bill and therefore a confidence matter - when it comes to the House this Friday.

But the Bloc is likely to turn against Stephen Harper's government on a confidence motion within three weeks - so the NDP's willingness to prop up the government for longer would be key to averting an election this fall.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, speaking to reporters after his own party's morning caucus meeting, noted that Mr. Harper has been accusing him of scheming to mount a coalition with "socialists and separatists."

"Now we see that this Reform-Conservative Party is propped up by the NDP and the Bloc," he said.

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"And I think that [NDP Leader Jack]Layton has to explain to workers, has to explain to people, why it's consistent with his previous positions."

But while the NDP has signalled they want to avoid an election, they are suspicious that the governing Conservatives, despite their public declarations, really want an election. Mr. Harper's Tories are pulling ahead of the opposition Liberals in the polls.

The NDP fears that the Conservative government might now try to force confidence votes on measures that would run squarely against the New Democrats' core positions. New Democrats cautioned they will still judge such issues on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Mulcair insisted his party won't vote against its core principles, like environmental protections, but will support "line items" like the popular home renovation tax credit that will be included in this Friday's confidence vote.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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