Bloc to prop up Harper government, avert election

OTTAWA - Stephen Harper's minority government is poised to survive at least its first confidence test this week, thanks to the very separatists and socialists so often derided by the prime minister.

OTTAWA - Stephen Harper's minority government is poised to survive at least its first confidence test this week, thanks to the very separatists and socialists so often derided by the prime minister.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe announced Tuesday that his party will support the government on a crucial budget vote Friday.

The vote is on a ways-and-means motion that paves the way for implementation of a host of budget measures, including the popular home renovation tax credit.

"We will support it since those are things that we've asked (for) ourselves since last November. So no problem with that," Duceppe said.

New Democrats are expected to follow suit, wooed by the government's promise to extend employment insurance benefits for longtime workers whose benefits are starting to run out.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said no final decision will be made until the party has a chance to study the EI legislation - to be introduced Wednesday - and the fine print of the budget motion. However, party sources said NDP support is all but certain.

The support of the two smallest parties is ironic for Harper who lambasted the Liberals last fall for attempting to form an unpopular coalition with the NDP and Bloc.

Only a couple of week ago, Harper was caught on videotape at a private Tory gathering arguing that Conservatives must win a majority in the next election to prevent the Liberals from trying once again to form a coalition with "socialists and separatists."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has flatly ruled out any coalition.

Heritage Minister James Moore insisted that having the NDP and Bloc choose, of their own volition, to support the government is not at all similar to forging a formal coalition.

"Look, there's certainly a difference between a Conservative government that wants to govern in the best interests of Canadians and obviously Liberals who will sign a coalition deal giving the balance of power permanently to the Bloc Quebecois," Moore said.

Until now, the Liberals have propped up the government on confidence votes. That ended with Ignatieff's declaration two weeks ago that he'll attempt to topple the government at the first opportunity this fall.

The Liberals will get their first chance to propose a motion of non-confidence sometime during the first week of October

How long Harper can rely on the NDP or Bloc to avoid an election is uncertain.

Duceppe said his party will vote on a case-by-case basis on all legislation brought before the House. But he indicated that the Bloc will not support the government on confidence motions, such as the one Liberals have planned for early next month.

"All in all, if we're asked if we have confidence in that government, the answer is No."

Layton declined to speculate on how New Democrats will vote until he sees the content of the Liberal motion. But party sources have said the NDP will help the government survive that vote if the EI legislation is as generous as billed.

The EI legislation could take weeks to win parliamentary approval. Layton said jobless Canadians need help quickly and, his party's patience could run out if there is "a great long process that would go for months."

He indicated the NDP could vote to bring down the government at any time if Harper introduces something anathema to New Democrats.

"If he wants an election, he can come and, you know, roll a grenade out into the middle of the House of Commons that is clearly contrary to anything that anybody could support."

Tuesday's manoeuvring came just as a new poll suggested the election frenzy gripping the country's political class hasn't stirred any movement among voters.

The latest survey by The Canadian Press Harris-Decima indicates the Conservatives were maintaining a slight lead in popular support, with 34 per cent to the Liberals' 30 per cent.

The NDP were at 15 per cent, the Green party at 10, and the Bloc Quebecois at nine.

The findings from the rolling two-week poll were virtually unchanged from last week, even though politicians have been jockeying non-stop for electoral advantage.

The telephone poll of just over 2,000 Canadians was conducted Sept. 3-13 and is considered accurate within a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

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