OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau survived a confidence vote on Wednesday after a key opposition party backed his ruling Liberals, averting the chance of a snap election as a coronavirus outbreak worsens.
Legislators voted 180-146 against a motion from the Conservatives, Trudeau’s main rivals, to set up a committee with wide-ranging powers to probe whether the government improperly handed contracts to friends as it battled the pandemic earlier this year.
Trudeau won only a minority of seats in the House of Commons in an election a year ago and needed the support of other lawmakers to survive. The left-leaning New Democrats backed the Liberals, saying the House should keep working to help Canadians harmed by the pandemic.
The result, on the anniversary of last year’s election, means Canadians will be spared from going to the polls again as winter approaches and the country faces a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez, in charge of negotiating with other parties, welcomed the end of what he called a ridiculous and abusive Conservative motion.
“Parliament chose to back Canadians rather than political games,” he told reporters, saying he had made no concessions to the New Democrats to win their support. Both parties compete for the same center-left segment of the electorate.
The creation of committees is usually a low-key affair, but Trudeau pushed to make the Conservative proposal a matter of confidence, placing his political survival on the line to fight what he called a bid to paralyze the work of Parliament.
More than 70% of Canadians say they do not want a snap election during the pandemic, according to an EKOS Research poll.
National opinion surveys have given Trudeau’s Liberals mostly good marks for handling COVID-19, but the country has reported an average of 2,401 new cases a day over the past week, and the second wave is clouding the economic outlook. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/3kj12VH)
Liberals would win 35% public support and the Conservatives 31% if a vote were held today, a result that could produce another minority Liberal government, said Frank Graves, president of polling company EKOS Research.
The Conservatives allege some of the more than C$200 billion ($152 billion) handed out in aid programs has been misspent.
In particular, they want to probe why the government awarded the contract to run a C$900 million student grant program to a charity that had paid Trudeau’s mother and brother for speaking engagements in previous years.
“Too many Canadians have been left behind in the Trudeau government’s slow, confused and issue-plagued COVID-19 pandemic response – and the prime minister is avoiding accountability at all costs,” said Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.
Trudeau has already apologized for taking part in a Cabinet decision to use the charity, which pulled out of the program.
($1=1.3143 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Peter Cooney)