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PMO officials Bruce Carson, left, and Mark Cameron are pictured in Ottawa, on Jan. 23, 2007. (Jake Wright/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
PMO officials Bruce Carson, left, and Mark Cameron are pictured in Ottawa, on Jan. 23, 2007. (Jake Wright/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Budget to take spotlight off contempt vote - for a while Add to ...

The coming federal budget is emerging as the Harper government's last hope to stave off an election as the opposition forges ahead with plans to find the Conservatives in contempt of Parliament.

The Liberal Party, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois showed no signs of appeasement after hearing the testimony of embattled minister Bev Oda on Friday and obtaining financial data earlier in the week on the cost of law-and-order bills.

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However, it will be at least a week before any motion of contempt can be lodged against the minister, during which time Tuesday's budget will jump back to the forefront of Canadian politics.

While the Harper government is promising to focus on restraint and offer little in new funding or programs, the budget could contain surprises that would make it palatable to at least one of the three opposition parties. The government needs the support of one of the parties to avoid a no-confidence vote, which would prompt an election.

In addition, two opposition parties will have an opportunity to amend the budget, one of which could obtain the support of the Conservatives.

The NDP has started running ads suggesting that its priority is making Parliament work, but it has carefully avoided stating whether it prefers collaborating with the government or the two other opposition parties.

Whether the country goes into an election or not, the opposition is trying to cash in on the government's ethical challenges.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called in the RCMP to look into the activities of Bruce Carson, one of his former advisers who has been working with a water-filtration company.

While Mr. Carson is in the midst of a five-year ban on lobbying activities in Ottawa, he met two senior officials in January in the office of Native Affairs Minister John Duncan in relation to his work with H20 Pros, according to the government.

Mr. Carson has not commented since the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network said that his girlfriend, who is also an escort, would have received 20 per cent of H20's profits.

Chief of the Tyendinaga Mohawks Don Maracle told The Globe and Mail that he met this week with two officials from H20 Pros, who said federal funds could be used to pay to install the system.

"They did issue a letter saying that the government would fund it and we found that kind of unusual that we would be hearing something like that from a supplier," Mr. Maracle said, insisting that his band has no deal whatsoever with the promoters.

"The pitch they used was the Indian Affairs was going to pay for all of it," he said.

In a letter to Mr. Maracle last October, H20 Pros's Patrick Hill said his community could host a pilot project to deal with its contaminated water supply.

"Should you decide that our solutions are acceptable, [Indian and Northern Affairs Canada]will provide all funding for the project," Mr. Hill wrote.

Calls to the company were not returned.

Whatever goodwill is left in the current Parliament seemed to disappear as Ms. Oda, the International Co-operation Minister, took a series of insults in a failed bid to convince the opposition that she never misled the House of Commons.

"You are either a very poor minister or an equally poor liar," NDP MP Pat Martin told Ms. Oda, using unparliamentary language that echoed the views of his opposition colleagues.

Ms. Oda insisted she did not mean to mislead MPs in her previous explanations, both in the House of Commons and at a Commons committee, of how the funding to a church-based group came be denied with the insertion of the word "Not" in a government memo.

"My original answers were truthful, accurate and precise, but they were not clear," Ms. Oda said, explaining her chief of staff had inserted the word. "I apologize for creating the confusion."

Another motion of contempt, this one related to the government's withholding of documents related to the cost of its crime bills, was approved by the procedures and house affairs committee on Friday.

It will be introduced on Monday and debated on Wednesday but is unlikely to voted upon next week.

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