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Deal sends opposition projects for study

OTTAWA

y officials worked all weekend to avoid a showdown in the House of Commons today with a deal that sends some of the opposition's main projects for the new minority government for further study by parliamentary committees.

The negotiations mean the Conservative Party's five-part amendment to the Throne Speech will likely pass this afternoon, giving the Liberals breathing room to govern until the budget. Officials said the negotiations between the four parties went smoothly, avoiding the game of "political chicken" that had marred a similar amendment to the Throne Speech from the Bloc Québécois two weeks ago.

The deal allows the Conservatives to say that the intent of their five amendments has been respected. The Liberals, meanwhile, can argue that they have bought time by ensuring that the main changes proposed by the Conservatives have been diluted or sent to parliamentary committees.

A Liberal defeat on the amendment would have sent Canadians back to the polls.

"The intent of all five points is still there, and we've negotiated a way to get it done that everybody can live with," Conservative House Leader John Reynolds said in an interview.

Speaking on CTV's Question Period, Liberal House Leader Tony Valeri said the negotiations clear the way for constructive work in the months ahead.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper will address the Commons this morning to lay out the deal.

Sources said the agreement will call on parliamentary committees to study the proposed creation of an independent employment insurance commission to set premiums, and the establishment of an independent office to give regular advice on fiscal forecasts to the government.

The proposed tax cuts for low-income Canadians will likely be studied as part of Parliament's prebudgetary consultation process, and the NDP's pet project -- a citizens assembly to review electoral reform -- remains largely in place.

In addition, the Commons will hold a non-binding vote on Canada's eventual participation in the U.S.-led anti-missile shield.

Mr. Reynolds said it is a victory for the opposition in the new minority government.

Two weeks ago, the Liberals got out of a showdown with the opposition when Prime Minister Paul Martin called Mr. Harper to work out a compromise on the proposed Bloc amendment to the Throne Speech.

Wording of the amendment, which called on Ottawa to respect the provinces' jurisdictions and alleviate fiscal pressures on them, was slightly changed just hours before the final vote in the Commons.

Mr. Reynolds said the Liberals had learned their lesson.

"[Mr. Martin] backed down, he blinked and said, 'Let's talk,' " Mr. Reynolds said of the discussions on the Bloc amendment.

"Ever since that moment, the government has realized they are a minority government. . . . Since that point, we've had good negotiations, great relations," Mr. Reynolds said.

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