By Lee Carter
BBC News, Toronto
Canada's minority Liberal government received some surprise help in its bid to stave off a Thursday vote
of no confidence, when a senior member of the
opposition Conservative party announced that she was
joining the Liberals.
Belinda Stronach, 39, who was regarded as a Conservative front-bench star, made the unanticipated announcement at a news conference with the Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin.
Martin was happy to welcome Stronach into government
She cited differences with her party leader
Stephen Harper over issues such as the party's
opposition to legislation that would legalise same-sex
She said she was uneasy at the Conservatives
forging a voting alliance in the House of Commons
with the Quebec separatist party the Bloc Quebecois.
And she mentioned opposition to her party's
determination to force an election, just a year after
Canadians last went to the polls.
"I find myself at a crossroads forced on me by the
leader of the Conservative Party trying to force the
defeat of this government this Thursday," she said.
"But I regret the party leader is not truly sensitive
to the needs of each part of the country and just how
big and complex Canada really is."
The Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois have been
determined to topple the Liberal government, which has
become embroiled in a corruption scandal, involving
millions of dollars of wasted Canadian taxpayers
money in the late 1990s.
The addition of Ms Stronach to Mr Martin's cabinet
increases his chances of keeping his minority
government alive for Thursday evening's no confidence
vote, ostensibly on the Liberal budget.
But it is by no means a foregone conclusion.
Her defection from the Conservatives gives the voting
coalition of the Liberals and the left-wing New
Democrats a total of 151 votes.
The Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois have a total of 152 votes.
However there are three Independent MPs. One says she
will vote with the Liberals, the other two have not
said which way they will vote.
In the event of a draw, the Speaker of the house, a Liberal, would cast the
'Symbol of vitality'
Conservative leader Stephen Harper acknowledged that
the loss of one of his front-bench MPs makes the
defeat of the government less likely.
But he says that he is glad that this happened now rather than during
"But it doesn't in any way change the principal
position that our caucus has taken on this issue. The
governing party is corrupt," Mr Harper said.
Harper admits the government's defeat is now less likely
Kady O'Malley is a journalist for the Ottawa
parliamentary newspaper The Hill Times. She says
regardless of who wins the vote Ms Stronach's
defection has wounded the Conservatives.
"She was seen as a younger, more moderate female voice
for a renewed Conservative party," Ms O'Malley said.
"She was someone they could always point to when the
Liberals or New Democrats tried to accuse the
Conservatives of being made up of grumpy old men.
"There are other dynamic women MPs in the party, but
it's a real blow, Belinda really was a beacon."
Ms O'Malley says that the loss of Ms Stronach opens up
old divisions in the relatively new Conservative party
and calls into question Mr Harper's leadership.
"Stronach was seen as a symbol of the party's
viability in urban constituencies and in central
Canada, which the Conservatives have found hard to crack.
"It harkens back to the traditional clash between the
more moderate Tories and the hard-line social
conservatives from Alberta and western Canada.
We've seen this flare up before and this is another example
of that division."
The dramatic development is just the latest in a
chaotic series of events to engulf Canadian politics.
Last week the opposition alliance of the Conservatives
and the Bloc shut down parliament for three
consecutive days, by winning parliamentary votes to
And regardless of whether or not Mr Martin's government survives, his tenure as prime minister will continue to be overshadowed by the so-called
In February 2004, the country's auditor-general issued
a report which said that in the late 1990s, the
governing Liberals had channelled at least C$100m
(£43m) from a C$250m (£107m) government programme to Liberal-friendly advertising agencies in the primarily French-speaking province of Quebec, for little or no work.
The fund was launched, by Mr Martin's predecessor as
prime minister, Jean Chretien, supposedly to promote
federalism and national unity in Quebec, shortly after
the province voted in a 1995 referendum, to stay in
Canada by only the slimmest of margins.
Canadians have been shocked by the explosive
revelations coming out of a televised daily public
enquiry, the most serious of which suggests the
Liberal party accepted kickbacks from the
advertising agencies to fund election campaigns
Mr Martin was the country's finance minister at the time of the sponsorship programme. He has strenuously denied any involvement or knowledge
Nevertheless, polls have shown a great deal of public anger directed at the Liberals.
The opposition Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois have made the corruption scandal their main issue in attempting to topple the government.
If Mr Martin's government survives the vote, he has promised to hold an election within 30 days of the public enquiry looking into the corruption allegations publishing its final report, which is expected by the end of the year.