OTTAWA -- Conservative MPs staged the largest
abstention in Canadian parliamentary history last night, sitting in the
House of Commons without casting a single vote as Liberals passed their
budget over the objections of the Bloc Québécois and the NDP.
82 of his members of Parliament in their seats, Conservative Leader
Stephen Harper pretended to rise when the Speaker called for the votes
against the budget. The Official Opposition Leader then sat back down
and joined his caucus in not voting one way or another.
The budget passed 132-73.
Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe and New Democratic Party Leader Jack
Layton ridiculed Mr. Harper and his MPs for abstaining.
"I imagine that during the next election campaign their slogan will be 'vote for us, we won't show up,' '' Mr. Duceppe said.
Layton said the Conservatives should have voted in favour of the budget
given that Mr. Harper had said on budget day Feb. 23 that he was
pleased with the document.
idea of coming to Ottawa only to sit on your hands when the most
important vote comes up. . . . He wants to pretend he's voting against
it while at the same time holding the government in power on the
budget. I don't think he's fooling anyone," Mr. Layton said.
Mr. Harper rejected the criticism.
become apparent is that the Bloc Québécois and the NDP will grandstand
on these things [but] it is up to us in the Conservative Party to
decide whether the time has come to have an election," he said. "In our
judgment -- I think in Canadians' judgment -- it is not that time."
Liberal minority government would have fallen if the budget had been
defeated. The Bloc and the NDP vowed to vote against it, forcing the
Conservatives, who do not want to fight an election because recent
polls show little change since the June vote, to ensure that the budget
passed. However, it would have been politically unpalatable to support
The Conservative caucus debated a mix of no votes and abstentions, but rejected the idea as too complicated.
Minister Ralph Goodale said the budget's passage shows that the
Opposition realized the government's plan would be hard to campaign
concluded that this budget was sufficiently strong that they did not
want to risk their political position on an election. That says the
budget is popular with Canadians," Mr. Goodale said.
abstention by the Conservatives was unprecedented in size. Previous
minority governments have formed coalitions with opposition parties,
preventing similar situations.
Abstentions are usually limited to a few MPs who want to signal opposition to a measure without defying their leaders.
Harper portrayed his party's decision as a responsible way to avoid an
unwanted election, but denied his party's actions indicate support for
the budget. He said the Liberals should not assume the Conservatives
will deliver on another budget.
didn't support this budget," he said. "I allowed the Parliament to
continue its work for a period to see whether the government is capable
of moving in our direction."
warned that he could precipitate an election over specific spending
items. MPs on the House of Commons committees have until June to review
the $187-billion in annual federal spending.
Last year, the opposition parties united to reduce spending for the Governor-General and the Privy Council Office.
Harper said the Conservatives will challenge money allocated for the
Liberals' Kyoto and childcare programs, as well as for foundations that
are not accountable to Parliament.
He said it would depend on the issue whether he was prepared to bring down the government over a particular item.
He said he hopes the opposition can reach consensus on which programs should have their funding reduced or scrapped.
Democratic MP Pat Martin, who championed the reduction in the
Governor-General's budget, said he was pleased with Mr. Harper's pledge
to work with the other opposition parties to reduce spending.
think it's safe to say there will be all-party co-operation in the
opposition at the estimates level because we've flexed our muscles once
and found it to be kind of exciting and I think you'll see more of
Mr. Martin added he would support any attempt to scrap the federal gun registry.
wouldn't want one more penny to go to that gun registry and I think
there'll be interest in our party to stop that," he said.
House Leader Tony Valeri said the government will decide which
reductions to programs to treat as a matter of confidence.
gone through this process once before and, obviously, we saw a
reduction in the [budget of the] Governor-General and the Privy Council
the last time and those were not considered matters of confidence, so
we'll be approaching them the same way, but we will certainly look at
each and every one on its own merits," he said.