Canadian Government Battles No-Confidence Vote

Canada's ruling Liberal Party has lost a key vote in the House of Commons. On Tuesday, Canada's parliament passed a motion calling for the government to resign. But Prime Minister Paul Martin's government says it does not consider the decision a real no-confidence vote and refuses to step down.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Canada's governing Liberal Party has lost a key vote in the House of Commons. Opposition parties say that vote means the Liberals must resign, but the government is refusing to step down. Richard Reynolds reports from Toronto.

RICHARD REYNOLDS reporting:

Canada's parliament is modeled after Westminster in the United Kingdom. Under Westminster-style rules, the government must be able to control the House of Commons. If a government loses the confidence of the House, the government falls and an election is called. In yesterday's vote, the motion called on the government to resign. It may have been close, but it did pass.

Unidentified Woman: Yeas (French spoken) 153. Nays (French spoken) 150.

REYNOLDS: But the governing Liberal Party said it won't go. It doesn't consider the vote a real non-confidence vote. No one is certain whether this does constitute a vote of confidence. The problem in interpreting non-confidence votes is that there is no rule book. Australia saw a serious constitutional crisis in 1974 when the government was brought down after an insignificant vote in the House of Commons there. It remains to be seen if Canada's head of state, the governor general, will force an election, but it seems unlikely. But the leader of the opposition Conservative Party says that Prime Minister Paul Martin is forcing Canada's first major constitutional crisis.

Unidentified Man: I think this is a serious situation. Mr. Martin's behavior has gone from dithering to desperate and now to dangerous.

REYNOLDS: All of this has been brought about because of a serious political scandal here. An independent commission investigating has heard allegations of electoral slush funds and the flagrant misuse of millions in government money. The opposition will have an opportunity to move a formal non-confidence motion later this month. Given the results of yesterday's vote, it seems the Liberals may be one or two votes short of the required number to preserve the government. If the Liberal Party loses, Canadians will be headed back to the polls just one year after their last national election. For NPR News, I'm Richard Reynolds in Toronto.

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