A vote to hold a vote of non-confidence...

…but not an actual vote of non-confidence. Which is why, after all this, the Liberals are still here.

To backtrack for my American readers: the minority government in Canada is starting to shake itself loose. The Liberals have pulled a number of stops to desperately cling to power. One of those was pushing back Opposition Days — days when the Opposition could control the agenda and bring various motions to a vote. Right now, if the Liberals were to lose the upcoming budget vote or an official motion of non-confidence, they would be seen to be defeated and new elections called.

The pushing-back maneuver bought them a few days, but the Conservatives countered by bringing forward a motion in committee to amend a law with a passage requiring the government to resign. This way, they argued, a motion of non-confidence could be held today. But wait, said the Liberals (unfortunately waiting until after the Speaker ruled that the motion was in order): this is not actually a vote of non-confidence. This is a vote to have a vote of non-confidence. If this vote passes, it doesn’t bring down the government. It’s only when the law, as amended, comes before the house and passes that the government falls.

And if your head isn’t spinning, you’re a better man than I.

A number of Conservative supporters and a number of other ordinary Canadians said that this was nonsense. If the government can’t defeat a vote to hold a vote on whether or not to shoot themselves in the head, they’ve shot themselves in the head. One more example of the Liberals clinging to power.

And I would have agreed with that, until I saw the vote result. The motion to hold a motion of non-confidence passed, by a vote of 153-150. There are 308 members in the house.

Let’s do the math. 150 + 153 = 303, or five short of the total number of votes available to the House. The Speaker (Liberal) only casts a vote in case of a tie, so that’s four missing. There’s a vacant seat (formerly Liberal) in Newfoundland. That’s three. Independent MP Chuck Cadman is away for chemotherapy. That leaves two MPs who were absent without leave. These were Justice Minister Irwin Cotler and Natural Resources Minister John Efford.

Let’s do some more math. The Liberals currently control 132 seats in the House. Their Speaker can’t vote, so that reduces their total to 131 votes. The NDP, who have committed to supporting the Liberals, have 19, bringing the government’s total to 150. The Conservatives have 99 votes, with the Bloc holding 54, bringing their total to 153. There are three independent MPs in parliament. If all three vote with the government, we have a tie vote and the Speaker, who has to cast a vote for the stability of parliament, regardless of which party he belongs to, would turn the numbers the Liberals’ way.

Today, two of the three independent MPs cast their lot in with the government.

This remaining uncertainty makes this vote not a vote of confidence, but a dry run for the real vote of confidence. The actual vote of confidence (and there’s more than one) comes later this week or early next, and you can be sure that the Liberals will have a full house for those.

If Chuck Cadman votes with the government, the government gets to stay.

It’s all down to you, Chuck!

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