Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on in Ottawa on Monday April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on in Ottawa on Monday April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Three confidence votes to determine fate of minority Liberal government

OTTAWA — A pair of proposed changes to the federal budget put forward by opposition parties will determine whether the minority Liberal government will fall, triggering a process that could culminate in an election.

The government said it hasinformed opposition parties that two votes in the House of Commons — on a Bloc Québécois sub-amendment Wednesday and a Conservative amendment Thursday — are considered confidence votes.

A third opportunity to pass judgment on the massive budget comes next Monday, when the House votes on the main motion to approve the government’s budget policy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government needs the backing of at least one of the three main opposition parties to survive a vote of confidence and avoid the imminent possibility of tumbling the country into an election campaign as it juggles the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic recovery.

Three New Democrats will vote in favour of the Bloc’s sub-amendment that seeks to beef up health transfers and old security payments, but the rest of the 24-member NDP caucus will vote against it in order to prop up the government on a confidence matter, said Leader Jagmeet Singh.

The three “yeas” will signal New Democrats’ support in principle for the move, while steering clear of toppling the government, he said.

“Canadians have said as well that having an election right now would be unfair and unsafe to them, and I agree,” Singh told reporters Wednesday.

“I will not be voting for an election.”

The NDP plans on Thursday to unanimously oppose the Conservative motion that the budget be revised to ramp up vaccination during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the goal of spawning jobs and economic growth.

On Tuesday, budget debate kicked off in the House with federal opposition leaders criticizing the government’s first budget in more than two years for omitting pharmacare, failing to adequately boost old age security and not speeding up the pace of vaccinations.

Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet tabled the party’s sub-amendment Tuesday calling for an added $28 billion this year in health-care transfer payments to the provinces and a hike in old age security benefits for all seniors, rather than just those aged 75 and above.

The Conservative motion takes aim at the “half a trillion dollars in new debt” that Tories say it will have to be paid for through higher taxes. It also highlights how the budget “fails to rule out” the introduction of capital gains taxes on the principal residences of Canadians to cover government spending.

Mark Kennedy, a spokesman for government House leader Pablo Rodriguez, confirmed Wednesday morning that the government considers the two amendments to be matters of confidence.

The procedure, which often concerns matters of budgetary policy, can result in a government’s removal from office if a majority votes against the motion in the House.

A vote of no confidence would set in motion a process whereby the prime minister would go before the governor general — or currently Chief Justice Richard Wagner, who is carrying out key functions of the viceregal post since it became vacant after Julie Payette stepped down in January amid a swirl of controversy.

Trudeau would ask the head of state’s representative to dissolve Parliament, who would also have the option, although unlikely, of saying no and asking whether the opposition parties could have the confidence of the House.

Conservative spokesman Axel Rioux said the Tories would vote against the Bloc sub-amendment because it is written such that it would cancel out the Conservatives’ amendment, rather than due to policy differences.

The Green party’s three MPs will be voting against the Conservative and Bloc amendments, said spokesman Noah Zatzman.