The federal government became a coalition of the reluctantly willing Wednesday when the NDP announced it would back the Conservatives in coming confidence votes, suddenly sending the prospects of a fall election from probable to unlikely.
Stephen Harper, who stoutly maintains he doesn't want an election - even though his party is ahead in polls and fundraising - is about to get his wish.
And a Prime Minister who has railed about the dangers of the Liberals forming a coalition with "socialists and the separatists" now governs at their sufferance.
NDP Deputy Leader Thomas Mulcair told reporters that his party would prop up the Conservatives over the coming weeks, provided the government fulfilled its nearly $1-billion promise to expand Employment Insurance benefits for so-called long-tenured workers who lose their jobs.
The expanded EI coverage "is a step in the right direction for what we've been asking for, so we're not going to do anything to block that money," Mr. Mulcair told reporters, "and an election campaign would definitely block it."
Mr. Mulcair added that his party would support the government on confidence measures until the EI bill, which would benefit about 190,000 workers, makes it through the House and Senate. That could take weeks or even months.
The social democrats have displayed remarkable agility in coming to the rescue of a government they had heretofore resolutely opposed. Election speculation was rife simply because most observers, including those within the parties, considered it inconceivable that either the NDP or the Bloc Québécois could bring themselves to support Mr. Harper's administration.
But the Bloc signalled Tuesday that it would back the government Thursday on a ways-and-means motion, because it includes the popular home-renovation tax credit. Now the NDP, which polls report is flagging in popularity in the crucial battlegrounds of Ontario and British Columbia, will join them, and will also side with the government when the Liberals introduce a motion of no-confidence, expected in the first week of October.
This latest turn of events leaves both Mr. Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton facing the delicate political dance of keeping each other happy without surrendering the final vestiges of party ideology.
The winner in all of this, politically, may well be Michael Ignatieff. The Liberal Leader was determined at all costs to avoid the trap that ensnared his predecessor, Stéphane Dion, who was forced repeatedly to prop up Mr. Harper's first government, rather than fight an election the Liberals correctly suspected they would not win.
When the Liberals withdrew support for the government two weeks ago, conventional wisdom held that they had made a serious mistake, as the Tories pushed ahead in the polls and a fall vote seemed increasingly ill-omened for the Official Opposition.
But with the embattled NDP now apparently resigned to keeping the government alive, the Liberals can play the role of a proper government-in-waiting, while also deriding the NDP for its failure of political courage.
Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc told reporters outside the House of Commons that the day's events proved "the NDP is for sale and for not a very high price."
The Liberals say they will continue to do everything within their power to bring the Harper government down. A new pre-election television ad, in both French and English, will be released this weekend. It will be the Liberal's third television ad in as many weeks.
"We will stay focused on making clear to Canadians why we do not support the Conservative government," said Mr. Ignatieff's spokeswoman Jill Fairbrother.
And Mr. Ignatieff showed no signs of backing away from his pre-election strategy when he addressed his troops at the closed-door caucus session Wednesday.
"You need to stand up to win," he told his MPs and senators, according to an insider. His words were greeted with enthusiastic applause, though many of those MPs are quietly relieved that they won't be compelled to meet the voters this fall.
Mr. Ignatieff also "noted the irony" of the NDP and Bloc's decision to support the Harper Conservatives on an coming confidence motion, said the insider.
"He feels he has effectively turned the tables on Stephen Harper after all these years that Harper has spent attacking him and the Liberal Party," said the insider about Mr. Ignatieff's remarks.
In the closed-door meeting, Mr. Ignatieff laid out the direction he wants his MPs to take, saying that the next election and a Liberal government will concentrate on four main themes: the economy and job creation, foreign policy, the environment, and social justice, in which a Liberal government would focus on seniors and health care.
When Mr. Ignatieff will get an opportunity to present that case remains anyone's guess. But it would be unwise to dismiss any thoughts of a fall vote entirely.
Industry Minister Tony Clement announced Wednesday that the government had decided not to review the acquisition of Nortel Networks by Swedish firm Ericsson.
This is bound to infuriate those who protest the loss of a once-great Canadian company to foreign ownership.
And in this Parliament, you never know what will happen next.