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Tory MP expelled from caucus 

[PoliticsWatch updated 7:25 p.m. June 5, 2007]

Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey will now sit as an independent. 

OTTAWA  — Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey was expelled from the Conservative caucus Tuesday night just minutes after he voted against his party's budget in the House of Commons. 

"Mr. Casey is
 well aware of the consequences before he cast his vote," Government Whip Jay Hill told reporters. "The consequences are he will no longer be sitting as a Conservative member of parliament."

Casey, who was the longest-serving Conservative MP in the House of Commons, was the only government MP from Atlantic Canada to vote against the budget because of changes it made to the Atlantic Accord. Casey said the language in the budget effectively broke the offshore resources deal with his province. 

Six Tory MPs from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, including Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, have been coming under pressure to defy the Prime Minister's Office and vote against the budget because of the changes. 

Casey was the centre of attention as he sat in his seat in the Commons on Tuesday evening minutes before the vote. MPs approached him and talked to him, including MacKay who has sat in the same caucus as Casey for 10 years dating back to the Progressive Conservative Party.

Hill said efforts to get Casey to support the budget went up to the "last minute." 

When Casey finally rose to vote against the budget he received a standing ovation from the Liberal benches in the House of Commons. After the vote, Casey exited the chamber from the opposition side of the House and was speaking with a small group of Liberal MPs from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. 

Casey told reporters after the vote that the government had broken its contract with Nova Scotia.

"I have been a used car salesman in the past and I honoured my contracts," he said. 

Despite what Hill told reporters, Casey said he still thought of himself as a Conservative.

Casey referenced comments MacKay made in question period last month when Liberal MP Robert Thibault asked him if the Tories would allow its Atlantic MPs to vote against the budget bill because of the changes to the accord. 

"We will not throw a member out of caucus for voting his conscience," MacKay said. "There will be no whipping, flipping, hiring or firing on budget votes as we saw with the Liberal government." 

Casey told reporters that because of the mixed message between Hill and MacKay "there's a conflict here. They haven't decided yet."

However, when Hill spoke with reporters to announce Casey was no longer in the Tory caucus the prime minister's chief of staff was standing nearby watching and listening to the scrum. 

Casey's decision comes after weeks of lobbying the premiers of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and some Atlantic MPs to redo the new equalization provisions announced in the budget. 

"I don't see any sign of a change," Casey said before the vote. "We've been doing this now since March 19. We've had meetings with minister, we've had meetings with the prime minister, we raised this in caucus, we put forth a number of proposals, we've got legal opinions, we've tried to build bridges with the provinces and we haven't moved."

Casey was first elected to the House of Commons in 1988, but he subsequently was defeated in the 1993 election that saw the Progressive Conservatives reduced to two seats. 

He returned to Parliament in 1997 and was re-elected in the next three elections. He holds what is seen as the safest seat for the Tories in Atlantic Canada. 

During the 2004 Conservative leadership race, Casey broke ranks with most in his caucus and supported Belinda Stronach, not current Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Casey is consider a strong constituent MP who also has an interest in the Middle East. PoliticsWatch named him its Best MP in 2004 and one of its Top 10 potential Tory dissidents after last year's election. He is also well liked by his colleagues in all parties. 

When asked if Casey would be welcomed in the Liberal party  fellow Nova Scotian MP and Liberal Mark Eyking told reporters "he's welcome aboard anytime because he's got what it takes."

Nova Scotia MP Thibault said while it's a decision for Liberal Leader Stephane Dion to make "as far as I'm concerned I've always liked Bill Casey. I've always been able to find a lot of common ground with him."

Dion told reporters after question period that if Casey is kicked out of caucus and wants to join the Liberals then "we'll have a decision to make."

"But for now, I just want to say that I'm very surprised to see that he's alone. What the other Atlantic MP's are doing in the Conservative party, they should be very against a budget that is so unfair for these two provinces." 

Before Casey, the last Conservative MP to be kicked out of caucus is Garth Turner, who now sits as a Liberal. 

Coincidentally, both he and Casey were in the Conservative caucus from 1988 to 1993 and the two men sat beside each other in the House of Commons after Turner returned to Parliament in 2006. 

"He's a man of honour," Turner told PoliticsWatch. "He's wrestling very much with this issue. He feels the Atlantic Accord was breached and he feels at odds with his party. I empathize with him."

"He's in a caucus where you can't even speak out even within the caucus on issues. So he's doing what he has to do to try to force an issue -- speaking to the media and maybe vote against his government tonight."

"I know what Bill's going through," he said. 

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