Harper Government Survives Confidence Vote

The Harper government has survived yet another confidence vote, in the face of a dire warning from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff that the Tories could “change Canada beyond recognition.”

The House of Commons voted 144-117 on Thursday against a Liberal motion to bring down the minority Conservatives.

The Liberals and Bloc Quebecois supported the motion while the Tories opposed it and the NDP abstained.

The NDP has served notice that it will prop up the government at least until legislation worth $1 billion in enhanced benefits for the unemployed is passed.

Earlier, during a passionate speech on the confidence motion, Ignatieff unleashed a blistering broadside on the Tories as he sought to explain to election-averse Canadians why the government is not worthy of survival.

He rattled off a litany of Conservative “failures,” flip-flops and broken promises – from the shaky economy to the medical isotopes shortage to Senate patronage. And he derided what he called the government’s politics of division and “hyper-partisan” attack.

He summed up the Conservative approach to governing as: “All adversaries are enemies, all methods are fair and all public money is available for partisan purposes.

“This is unworthy of the political traditions of this country,” he told the nearly empty Conservative benches in the Commons.

Ignatieff said the government has demonstrated a pattern of “incompetence” and “malice,” driven by what he called a “starve-the-beast ideology” to permanently dilute the powers of the federal government.

“It will weaken and eventually it could change Canada beyond recognition,” he warned.

Harper later shrugged off the criticism, accusing Ignatieff of “flailing around trying to justify an election that nobody wants for a reason nobody understands on a policy that nobody’s heard of.”

Transport Minister John Baird urged Ignatieff to “look beyond the view from the terrace of his condo in Yorkville” to the real needs of Canadians – echoing Tory attack ads that portray the former Harvard professor as an intellectual dilettante who’s “just visiting” Canada.

Ignatieff retorted that Baird’s personal taunts “prove my point” that the Tories always take the low road.

Ignatieff’s eagerness for a fall election appears to have hurt Liberals, who’ve fallen several points behind the Tories in recent public opinion polls.

Many of his own MPs have gotten cold feet, especially in the wake of this week’s internecine fracas over candidate recruitment that culminated in the acrimonious departure of Ignatieff’s Quebec lieutenant, Denis Coderre.

But the leader was undaunted. In his most detailed and passionate explanation yet for why the Tories must fall, he accused the government of failing to:

-Manage the country’s finances. He pointed out that government estimates of this fiscal year’s deficit have ballooned to almost $60 billion from zero.

-Protect Canadian citizens when they run into trouble abroad. Ignatieff implied a racist motive, charging that people with names like “Suaad Mohamud or (Abousfian) Abdelrazik . . . cannot count on the protection of the Canadian government.”

-Get infrastructure funding flowing quickly. What little money has flowed, he said has gone disproportionately to Conservative ridings.

-Provide a timely vaccine against the H1N1 flu virus.

-Ensure a stable supply of medical isotopes amid a shortage that has delayed cancer and heart tests.

-Defend Canada’s public health-care system against attacks in the United States.

-Review foreign takeovers of Canadian companies, like Nortel, Inco, Falconbridge, Stelco and Alcan.

-Uphold Canada’s influential role on the world stage. He noted that Harper won’t even speak at the United Nations.

Without the support of both the other opposition parties – the Bloc Quebecois and NDP – the non-confidence motion is purely symbolic of a Liberal party reasserting its role as the official Opposition in Parliament.

Before entering the Commons to introduce his motion, Ignatieff told reporters his party had done “much soul-searching” before coming to the conclusion it could no longer support the Tories.

Liberal support – or Liberal abstentions on confidence votes – has kept the Harper government in power for more than three years. But the corrosive impact of that begrudging support was hollowing out internal Liberal party morale.

Ignatieff walked away from reporters as he was asked whether he actually wants an election this fall.

Canadian Prime minister Stephen Harper addresses a press briefing at the end of the G20 Summit on September 25, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images

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