Canada's government survives non-confidence motion

OTTAWA (Reuters) - As expected, Canada’s minority Conservative government survived a non-confidence motion on Thursday on its handling of the economic crisis due to a split among the three opposition parties.

Legislators voted 144-117 against the motion, which had been proposed by the main opposition Liberal Party. Had the government lost the vote, Canada would have been tipped into its second election in a year.

The left-leaning New Democrats, who had made clear ahead of time they would not bring down the government for now, all abstained.

Speaking earlier in the day, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said the budget deficit could spiral to C$60 billion ($55.6 billion) this year. The government, which as late as last November said it could stay out of the red, now puts the likely deficit this year at C$55.9 billion.

“They have lost control of the public finances of our country ... this is a terrible record of failure,” Ignatieff told Parliament.

The New Democrats -- usually fierce critics of Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- say they will help keep the government in power at least until Parliament adopts legislation boosting benefits for the unemployed.

New Democrats leader Jack Layton, speaking just before the vote, said he would not give the government a blank check.

“I would call on Stephen Harper not to provoke an election. He knows how you have to act to make a place work when there’s a minority Parliament,” he told CTV television.

Skeptics link the New Democrats’ new-found enthusiasm for the government to polls showing support for the NDP is dropping.

On Thursday, a weekly Ekos survey for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp put the Conservatives at 36.0 percent support, down from 37.0 percent the previous week. The Liberals were at 29.7 percent, down from 29.9 percent.

The NDP had 13.9 percent support, up slightly from 13.8 percent a week earlier, but below earlier Ekos numbers.

The poll results indicate the Conservatives would win a third successive minority government if an election were held now. To win a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons a party needs around 40 percent of the popular vote.

The Conservatives say that Canadians do not want an election. A Nanos Research poll published on Thursday said 72.6 percent of those surveyed opposed the idea of a vote now.

“I would encourage him to ... look at the real needs of people in this country,” Transport Minister John Baird told the House of Commons in response to Ignatieff’s comments, saying Canadians did not want an early and opportunistic election.

Support for the Conservatives rose sharply after the Liberals announced early last month that they wanted to bring down the government.

“The apparent momentum of early September has reached its limit. The Conservatives are not continuing to rise closer to their majority goal,” said Ekos pollster Frank Graves.

The Ekos automated telephone survey of 2,738 adult voters was conducted between September 23 and 29 and is considered accurate to within 1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

($1=$1.08 Canadian)

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway