While Layton and Duceppe were no doubt both wise to let the home renovation tax credit measure pass the EI changes are more controversial. Even this might be defensible but Layton also insists on keeping the Tory government in power until the EI changes become law which would take up to two months and would mean that the NDP could prop the Tories up when the Liberals present a non-confidence motion assuming they will do so. This would make a laughing stock of the NDP. The Conservatives have done nothing to sweeten the EI legislation to make it more in line with NDP policy. If the NDP is worried about their poll numbers now, they will have even more worries if they keep propping up a government they have been bad mouthing ever since it took power.
Layton delves into uncharted waters to keep Harper afloat
Steven Chase and Bill Curry
Ottawa — From Saturday's Globe and Mail
The future of Stephen Harper's minority government now apparently rests in the hands of Jack Layton's New Democrats, who have previously made a virtue of opposing Tory legislation.
As expected, Mr. Harper's Conservatives survived a parliamentary confidence vote on several budget measures Friday after both the Bloc Québécois and NDP voted in their favour – with the Liberals opposing.
But later that day, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe took to the microphone to make it clear that the Tories should not count on his party's support in future confidence votes.
Mr. Duceppe emphasized that while he continues to support a popular home renovation tax credit approved in yesterday's budget vote, he has no interest in propping up the Tories on a regular basis. He suggested the NDP would be the only party keeping Mr. Harper in office.
He said the Bloc would vote against the Conservatives in motions that test parliamentary support for Mr. Harper.
“If they ask if we have confidence in that government, the answer is clear: N-O, no.”
How long the Conservatives can continue to govern before facing another election apparently depends on how long Mr. Layton can justify propping them up. The Tories can survive as long as one rival supports them, or abstains, during confidence votes.
The NDP has shown scant enthusiasm for an election, which might cost it seats. It latched on to extensions to the Employment Insurance program unveiled by the Tories this week as a reason to delay a trip to the polls. The New Democrats say they're now prepared to keep the Conservatives in power until the EI changes become law, a process that could take roughly six to eight weeks to complete.
While Mr. Layton can rely on election fatigue among Canadians to buttress his position right now, he still faces the risk of a backlash from left-leaning supporters for backing the right-wing Conservatives.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff returns to the House of Commons after speaking to reporters in the wake of the minority Conservative government's budget motion passing with the support of the NDP and Bloc Quebecois on Sept. 18, 2009.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, whose party has pledged to defeat the Tories as soon as possible, is planning a no-confidence motion for early October. He needs both the Bloc's and the NDP's support to succeed, but was gleeful Friday at the prospect of political misfortune for his rivals if they keep backing the Conservatives.
“Jack and Gilles have gone up the hill, and we know how that little fairy tale ends,” Mr. Ignatieff joked Friday.
Mr. Layton played down concerns expressed by others in his party – NDP president Peggy Nash and caucus members such as Windsor-area MP Joe Comartin – that the Tory EI bill is inadequate and will leave out many unemployed, particularly former auto sector workers.
He said NDP supporters can live with the decision to back the Tories if it leads to improvements to EI. “Our supporters prefer that we work for them rather than having an election that no one wants.”
But Tories Friday showed no interest in amending Bill C-50, the new EI legislation, to address NDP concerns.
Mr. Layton was unfazed, saying he hopes to use private members' bills to make more changes to the EI program.
“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.”
Mr. Layton's plan to remedy NDP concerns about EI through private members' bills – legislation not sponsored by government – is a long shot. Only a handful of these ever become law because it often takes years for them to move through the system.
Mr. Duceppe 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 parties to have the bill sent quickly to committee for study after a second reading vote.
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,” Mr. Duceppe said. “Look at the polls.”