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Canada's PM faces double crisis

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Canada's PM faces double crisis

Canada's minority Liberal government faces a confidence vote on Thursday after just four months in office.

The two main opposition parties are poised to vote to amend government spending plans, by giving more spending powers to the regions.

The crisis comes amid widespread anger over the death of a Canadian sailor on a used submarine purchased from the UK.

The government has been accused of disregarding defence and buying "inferior submarines" on the cheap.

Prime Minister Paul Martin said he could not accept the amendment, tabled by the Bloc Quebecquois and supported by the Conservatives.

"It is a matter of such importance that if the government fell over it we'd go to an election," he said.

Parliament balanced

All parties in Canada's parliament summoned their MPs back to Ottawa, aware that the vote is balanced on a knife-edge.

Correspondents say it could be decided by one man - independent MP Chuck Cadman - as government and opposition blocs have equal numbers of seats in the House of Commons.

"I haven't decided which way I'm going," said Mr Cadman, a former Conservative.

Opposition politicians denied that a defeat would automatically trigger an election.

"The prime minister's playing games here," said John Reynolds, who runs the Conservatives' business in the House of Commons.

Sub inquiry urged

Members of parliament have called for urgent inquiries into the purchase of the British submarines.

The defence spokesman for the opposition New Democratic Party, Bill Blaikie, said the possibility of making a claim against the British should be explored.

"I have heard reports suggesting the hull had to be reinforced, there were leaky valves, dented holes, a lot of malfunction," he said.

"We have gone from a litany of problems to tragedy," he added.

The Canadian Conservative party has also questioned the decision to buy the vessels.

On Wednesday parliament held a minute's silence for Lt Chris Saunders, who died after a fire aboard the submarine HMCS Chicoutimi.

The UK mothballed the boat in 1994, but then refitted it, with three others, to be sold to Canada. All have had major problems.

The BBC's Lee Carter in Toronto says independent defence analysts and opposition critics believe the political fallout could be extremely serious if it turns out the navy did not check the submarines properly.

Story from BBC NEWS:

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I can't wait to see how this plays out.

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Last-minute deal saves Liberals from defeat News Staff

Prime Minister Paul Martin has averted a political crisis by changing the wording of a Bloc Quebecois sub-amendment that had been threatening to topple his Liberal minority.

The Bloc's original sub-amendment to the government's throne speech asked that Ottawa respect provincial jurisdictions and take into account that its greater taxing power lowers provincial revenues.

The Liberals had declared the amendment a vote of confidence, which meant that if it passed, the government would fall.

The wording introduced Wednesday asked the government to "fully respect the provinces' areas of jurisdiction and the financial pressures the provinces are suffering as a consequence of the fiscal imbalance, as demanded by the premier of Quebec."

Under the provisions of an agreement brokered late Thursday afternoon, the Bloc Quebecois "will remove a reference to the Premier and the government of Quebec."

CTV's Craig Oliver said the federal government doesn't mind dealing with all of the provinces, but it didn't want to appear to be giving Quebec a veto on federal budgets.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton also agreed to the new wording.

Martin says he interpreted the original sub-amendment to mean Ottawa would give up control of public finances, which he refused to do.

Martin was clearly relieved that the issue had been resolved. He also had a simple explanation for why things got so complicated -- to the point where a vote on the issue might have toppled his government.

"Democracy is messy. It takes a lot of negotiation," Martin told reporters. "Sometimes it's late at night and sometimes it's different people in different rooms. That's the way democracy is."

Harper said all the leaders worked together to come to a resolution.

"The rhetoric kind of got out of control," Harper said. "I told the prime minister we weren't going to call an election over wording."

"I think we should give everybody some credit for putting some water in their wine," Harper said.

But the Liberals aren't out of the woods just yet. MPs will vote on throne speech amendments that the Conservatives have proposed on Oct. 18. The Conservative amendments call for:

tax cuts for low- and middle-income families;

the creation of an independent budget office;

reform of the Employment Insurance surplus;

consideration of proportional representation;

and a debate on joining the U.S. missile defence plan

Two days later, MPs will vote on the full throne speech.

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