Since no one party has 144 MPs in the house, no one party can defeat the government. No one party can trigger an election (unless Mr. Harper requests the Governor General, again).
Since no party has declared their MPs will have a free vote, we should assume all MPs present in the house will vote with their party line.
If any MP avoids the upcoming confidence vote without sufficient cause, they express support for the government.
So therefore, any MP absent without sufficient cause is either:
- expressing their parties support for the government [cover your ears] EVEN IF THAT PARTY VOTES NO CONFIDENCE, or
- expressing their individual support for the government against the party line.
If it's #2 the party should take some action to discipline the individual MPs afterward. If no action is taken, ipso facto it must be #1.
If any party or combination of parties allows enough absent MPs to avoid passing a motion of no confidence, then they should be identified as supporting the government [cover your ears] EVEN IF THOSE PARTIES (THAT PARTY) VOTE(S) NO CONFIDENCE.
Either the BQ or NDP could allow the government to continue, in exchange for something from the Conservatives. However, the Conservatives may think they'd emerge from an election with yet another minority anyway, and therefore wouldn't gain much by avoiding an election. If the Conservatives think they'd lose the election they should definitely offer something, to retain power as the economy improves (another questionable assumption, but it's a popular opinion now). My guess is no deal because they think they'll get at least another minority. Rather, I expect the government to 'dare' the other parties to defeat it with aggressive motions designed to drive election issues and support their platform.
I think the most confusing scenario would be if some combination of absent BQ and NDP allowed the government to survive, with no reward from the Conservatives (e.g. that each thought they'd lose out in an election). In other words an implicit NDP-BQ 'coalition' of support for Conservatives, to avoid an election. Ouch, the tin foil is too tight on my head. If the government comes out with aggressive, ideological motions this won't be possible at all.
So, I guess I'm expecting an election. No predicitions though, yet.