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The Globe and Mail

Tories tinker with Commons calendar as Liberals mull confidence motion

The doors to the Commons stand closed with the House in recess on March 14, 2011.


The Conservative government says the Liberals will have to wait until Friday of next week before they can move a motion of no-confidence that would take the country into an election.

Government House Leader John Baird decided Tuesday that the final opposition supply day - a day the Liberals can attempt to take down the government on matters of contempt or alleged abrogation of democracy - will be March 25.

That means the federal budget can be unwrapped as planned on Tuesday. But it does not necessarily mean that the government will survive the week.

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A vote on the budget, which would necessarily be a confidence matter, could be scheduled before the Liberals have had the chance to introduce a motion.

It might work better for the Conservatives to have the government fall on the budget, which would then become the central election issue, rather than some other issue related to accountability.

Liberal House Leader David McGuinty said the Tories had initially informed the Liberals their supply day would be Monday, March 21. But the government changed its mind late last week.

Mr. McGuinty said it was "highly unusual" for the government to wait until the very last day of the supply period to allot the opposition day.

This means the Liberal motion will be voted on next Friday night. This will be followed by votes on estimates, which are also considered matters of confidence.

House of Commons rules stipulate that the supply days must be dealt with before the estimate votes. As a result, Mr. McGuinty says MPs will likely be voting late into the night on Friday.

The Liberal House Leader said only Mr. Harper can answer for why the Tories are moving these days around. He is not convinced the government will not try to move the supply day once again. They can change the schedule up until Wednesday or Thursday; the only requirement is that the opposition day be allotted on or before Friday.

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Mr. McGuinty would not say whether the Liberals will be bringing forward a confidence motion. Rather, he quoted Shakespeare: "Readiness is all."

There is much at stake. Beginning Wednesday, the all-party procedure and House affairs committee is to begin hearings into two potential contempt issues.

The committee, which dominated by opposition MPs, will question witnesses as to whether the government violated the privileges of MPs by withholding documents pertaining to the costs of its crime agenda and whether International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda misled Parliament on the decision to revoke funding to an aid group.

"We are really looking to see how tomorrow begins and whether or not there is going be co-operation," Mr. McGuinty said. "I can't prejudge, I just can't prejudge. I don't know what they're going to do. I don't know how they're going act. I don't know what information they're going to reveal or whether they're simply going to hunker down."

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