Conservatives Rebound as Elections Loom; Kickback Scandal, Budget Battle Threaten to Sink Governing Liberals

Article excerpt

Byline: Levon Sevunts, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

MONTREAL - A reconstituted Conservative Party, ideological heirs to a party that was wiped from the political map 12 years ago, stands poised to regain power as early as this summer thanks to a kickback scandal engulfing the governing Liberals.

Leaders of the Conservative and the separatist Bloc Quebecois parties - who together hold a slight majority in Parliament - announced Wednesday that they will vote against the government's budget next month, forcing a June election.

A day earlier, Prime Minister Paul Martin had tried to shore up his government by promising the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP) he would defer tax cuts to large corporations and increase social spending and foreign aid in exchange for its support on the budget.

But that served mainly to further anger Conservative leader Stephen Harper, who told reporters yesterday, "I'm flabbergasted at the amount of taxpayers' money these guys are prepared to throw around."

Speaking in Montreal, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said that his party, too, "cannot support the government any longer."

The developments set up a razor-thin vote when the budget comes up in the House of Commons next month, forcing Mr. Martin to cancel a trip to Russia and the Netherlands for the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.

A Liberal-NDP alliance would produce 151 votes in the 308-member Parliament, while the Conservatives with 99 and the Bloc with 54 control a total of 153 seats. Two of the three independents are expected to vote with the government.

Political observers say the Liberals' best hope is that two Conservative members battling cancer will be too sick to vote. …