The Conservative government is scrambling to avert an embarrassing political spectacle after one of its own opposed the federal budget implementation bill in a preliminary vote Tuesday night.
Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey says the bill - which sets the March 19 budget into action - breaks a promise by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to his home province on resource revenue.
Casey is vowing to vote No again later this week when the bill goes to third and final reading in the House of Commons unless there are changes allowing Nova Scotia to reap the full benefit of its offshore oil and gas wealth without losing any equalization payments.
Casey risks being kicked out of the Tory caucus but he says he must vote his conscience and hopes for a compromise before the final vote.
Assuming there is no compromise, this one vote has broader ramifications than first blush would suggest. If the Conservative MP's in the three provinces in question had held together, there was at least the appearance of a counter-argument. With Casey's decision, all the other Conservative MP's look weak, less-principled and their retorts lack credibility. Now, not only do these MP's have to defend a bad budget, they also have to answer why they didn't join their counterpart on principle. This fact may explain why MacKay has been part of the key meetings to keep Casey on side.
This is a good deal for Nova Scotia, and by extension Newfoundland and Saskatchewan, doesn't quite jive with the reality of the longest serving Conservative MP leaving the party over the issue. I can't wait for the feeble spin.
Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert, who has been feuding himself with his federal counterparts over equalization, praised Casey.
''The question many people in Saskatchewan are asking, including myself is: where are our members of Parliament?'' Calvert told The Canadian Press. ''Where is the courage to stand up for their province?''
The final moments prior to the vote, reveal desperation, that looks like amateur hour. Last second dealing (what about those principles?), verbal agreements, later written text. The flurry of activity tells us all we need to know about the ramifications:
As the clock wound down towards the vote, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn along with some senior staffers hauled the wayward MP into an anteroom. They claimed they had struck a deal with Casey's home province - one that would preserve Nova Scotia's treasured offshore royalty accord.
"I said: 'Where is it?' Do you have it on paper?" Casey told The Canadian Press in an interview late Tuesday.
"They said: 'We don't have it on paper yet.' They were
After Tuesday's vote Casey claimed to have been shown a written copy of an agreement that apparently satisfies his province's demands, one that includes millions of dollars in spending. But he couldn't recall the details.