Tories threaten fall election after contentious measures stripped from budget bill

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The Tories are threatening a fall election after opposition senators stripped contentious provisions from the Harper government's massive budget implementation bill.

Senator Doug Finley, the Tory national campaign director, said a fall election is a distinct possibility if senators refuse to pass the bill as is.

OTTAWA -

The Tories are threatening a fall election after opposition senators stripped contentious provisions from the Harper government's massive budget implementation bill.

Senator Doug Finley, the Tory national campaign director, said a fall election is a distinct possibility if senators refuse to pass the bill as is.

"Absolutely," Finley said in an interview moments after opposition members on the Senate finance committee voted Thursday to erase four controversial measures from the budget bill.

"I can't think of anything more important than what's in that budget bill."

The full Senate could vote to reinstate the provisions pulled by the finance committee, but it's not certain the Conservatives have the numbers to do that.

While the Tories now dominate the upper chamber, they do not have an absolute majority.

Should the Senate uphold the committee changes, Finley said the amended bill would have to go back to the House of Commons when it resumes sitting, which would likely return the bill in its original form to the Senate.

Finley said he's hopeful senators will eventually bow to the will of the elected Commons, which has already approved the bill. But if they don't, he said, "Let's dance."

"We're ready to go to an election if we have to. The buses, the planes, the trains, the money, the war room - everything's ready to rock and roll," Finley said.

"We're in good shape for an election."

The full Senate will vote next week on the committee's changes to the bill.

Liberal Senate leader James Cowan said the government will be able to overturn the committee's changes, provided all Tory senators show up for the vote.

But even if the Senate were to uphold the changes, Cowan noted the upper house is not a confidence chamber. Consequently, its refusal to accept the budget bill would not automatically amount to a defeat of the minority Conservative government.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper could, however, use a budget holdup as an excuse to call an election.

A spokesman for Harper said the prime minister "is not looking to call an election this fall."

"Canadians don't want an election," Dimitri Soudas said, adding Liberal senators should "stop delaying" the budget bill.

Cowan said Liberals are not trying to precipitate a crisis or an election.

"We were making a statement and it worked exactly the way we wanted it to work," he said.

"The statement is that this is a terrible way to do the public's business. ... This is the most egregious example, that I know of, of an omnibus bill and they put stuff in there that they didn't dare put as stand-alone legislation."

During clause-by-clause examination of the 900-plus-page budget bill, five Liberal senators were joined by Progressive Conservative Senator Lowell Murray to pull four measures.

Murray and Liberal senators have strenuously objected that the massive bill is larded with all sorts of non-budgetary items that should have been presented as stand-alone legislation.

They joined forces to yank some of them, including provisions to allow for the potential privatization of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) and to end Canada Post's monopoly on international mail.

Opposition senators also rejected measures that would diminish the scope of federal environmental assessments and would allow retroactive changes to excise taxes on financial services.

All four measures were defeated on tie votes of 6-6.

Murray told the committee he doesn't share Liberal concerns about the impact of the bill on Canada Post. But he voted with Liberals to remove the provision because "it doesn't belong in a budget bill."

He also tried to amend the provision regarding AECL, requiring that the government seek parliamentary approval before proceeding with any plan to sell off all or part of the Crown corporation.

When his amendment was rejected, he joined the Liberals in voting to pull the AECL provisions from the bill altogether.

NDP national revenue critic Carol Hughes welcomed the move by opposition senators to strip out some of the non-budgetary matters. But she questioned whether Liberals are sincere about wanting the changes or just playing a tactical game.

She noted that Liberal MPs criticized the same measures but didn't show up in sufficient numbers to vote against when the bill was passed by the Commons.

"Now they're pretending to be the heroes" in the Senate, Hughes said.

Organizations: Tory, Commons, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Conservatives House of Commons Canada Post

Geographic location: OTTAWA

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