OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau's minority Liberal government easily survived Wednesday the first of three confidence votes on the federal budget.
A Bloc Quebecois sub-amendment to the main budget motion was defeated by a vote of 297-37.
The sub-amendment called on the government to accede to premiers' demand for a $38-billion hike in annual transfer payments for health care and for a 10 per cent increase in old age security for all seniors, not just those aged 75 and over.
There was little suspense over the government's fate.
Earlier in the day, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh reiterated his vow to prop up the government through the budget votes in order to avoid plunging the country into an election in the midst of a deadly third wave of COVID-19.
Four New Democrats voted for the Bloc sub-amendment to signal the party's approval in principle, while the rest of the 24-member NDP caucus — including Singh who voted electronically just before receiving his first COVID-19 vaccination —voted against it to ensure the government would not fall.
In the end, the NDP's manoeuvres were not required to save the government. The Conservatives, all five independent MPs and two of three Green MPs all voted against the Bloc sub-amendment as well.
Early Wednesday, the Liberals informed opposition parties that they would consider both the Bloc sub-amendment and a Conservative amendment, which is to be put to a vote Thursday, to be tests of confidence in the minority government.
That means passing either of them would be equivalent to voting non-confidence in the government, triggering a process that could culminate in an election.
A third opportunity to pass judgment on the massive budget comes Monday, when the House votes on the main motion to approve the government's budgetary policy.
Prime Minister Trudeau's Liberal government needs the backing of at least one of the three main opposition parties to survive a vote of confidence.
Singh reiterated Wednesday that his party will prop up the government to avoid a pandemic election.
"Canadians have said as well that having an election right now would be unfair and unsafe to them, and I agree," he told reporters.
"I will not be voting for an election."
The NDP plans on Thursday to unanimously oppose the Conservative amendment that calls for 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.
The Conservative amendment takes aim at the "half a trillion dollars in new debt" that Tories say 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.
Conservative spokesman Axel Rioux said earlier the Tories would vote against the Bloc sub-amendment because it is written such that it would cancel out the Conservatives' amendment.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2021.
Christopher Reynolds and Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press