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Canada In Crisis

Liberal gov't may fall if Bloc amendment passes

Amidst embarrasing reports of a broken-down second-hand submarine killing one crewman, Prime Minister Paul Martin is now headed for his first high-stakes political showdown in a vote that could trigger the collapse of his minority government.

In response to the government's throne speech, the Bloc Quebecois has tabled a sub-amendment that will be put to a vote around 6 p.m. ET Thursday.

Expected to receive the Conservatives' full support, the amendment asks Ottawa to respect provincial jurisdictions and take into account that federal taxing powers weaken provincial ability to raise revenues.

According to Liberal House Leader Tony Valeri, the Bloc proposal would hand control of the federal treasury to the province. And that, he says, is a change the government simply cannot agree to.

"This is a fundamental issue. Fundamental to how this country is governed, fundamental to how, in fact, we work with provinces across this country," Valeri told reporters in Ottawa.

"This sub-amendment dramatically changes that relationship and we cannot support it."

Matters of such vital importance, Valeri said, are by their very nature votes of confidence. That means if the amendment passes, the government could fall.

Speaking moments later, Prime Minister Paul Martin acknowledged the stakes, but said he cannot be moved.

"It is the responsibility of Parliament to control the public purse, and not see that responsibility delegated to a third party," he said. "That's what the Bloc motion essentially says it will do.

"I can tell you I will not except that kind of abdication."

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP Leader Jack Layton were surprised that the government was taking the sub-amendment vote so seriously.

"I don't find it logical," Duceppe told reporters after Question Period.

Layton agreed when one reporter suggested Martin was playing a political game of chicken, waiting to see which side would flinch first. "Canadians want us to work and not to engage in political games with other parties," he said.

Martin told reporters that, "this is such a fundamental issue that if the government does fall on that point, we would go to the polls."

Clearly fired up by the chance to defend his authority, the prime minister made it clear his resolve is firm.

"If you want to be prime minister, you've got to stand up for the prerogatives of Parliament and the prerogatives of the national government.''

But when reporters pressed Valeri to explain what precise steps the Liberals would take if they lose the vote, he wouldn't be pinned down.

"This is a vote of confidence, and ultimately on issues of confidence they are dealt with in the manner that they are dealt with," he said.

If the Liberals are defeated, the Governor General Adrienne Clarkson would likely consult with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to see if he could form a government. She could also be forced to call another election.

Duceppe denied he had an type of coalition agreement with the Conservatives, and said that "even based on divergent interests, we may have common goals."

The Conservatives have also proposed their own amendments, which will be put to a vote on Oct. 18. A vote on the government's entire 15-page blueprint will be held two days later.

In the June election, the Liberals were reduced to a minority government with 135 seats in the 308-seat House. The Conservatives have 99 seats, the Bloc have 54 and the NDP have 19.

That means if all the Bloc and Conservative MPs turn out to vote down the Liberals, all it would take is the one vote from Conservative-turned-Independent Chuck Cadman to reach the 154-vote threshold needed to defeat the government.

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