An angry backlash from Liberal MPs has forced Michael Ignatieff to back off his party's apparent support for proposed reforms to Canada's refugee system.
Sources say the Liberal leader promised to rethink the matter after hearing a litany of complaints during a closed-door caucus meeting.
A host of MPs, including the entire Quebec caucus, told Ignatieff they can't and won't support the reform package — even though the government has agreed to changes demanded by the Liberals' own immigration critic, Maurizio Bevilacqua.
Sources say Bevilacqua was the only MP at the Liberal caucus meeting to express support for the bill.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced changes to the refugee reform bill earlier this week.
Kenney lavished praise on Bevilacqua for helping strike a deal that the government hopes will mean refugee reforms are passed before Parliament's summer recess later this month.
But Bevilacqua's Liberal colleagues were not so laudatory. Some privately groused that Bevilacqua's eagerness for a deal was motivated by his desire to line up Tory support for a possible bid for the mayoralty in Vaughan, Ont.
Bevilacqua did not respond to a request for comment.
A while back, I heard from a very reliable source that Bevilacqua was planning on supporting the Harper-Kenney refugee bill in exchange for the Conservative endorsement of his mayoralty campaign. While Bevilacqua was still a Member of Parliament, I bit my tongue - because if anything I wrote jeopardized Bill C-440, I would never forgive myself. Let me tell you, when I heard Bevilacqua sound like Jason Kenney's publicist during the C-11 debate, my tongue-biting was starting to hurt.
After that, our man Gerard Kennedy told us that Bill C-11 "must be amended, it cannot be allowed to pass in its present form," I was hopeful. And now it has come to pass.
"As a Liberal for the last 25 years, I cannot support any list of designated countries," asserted Denis Coderre, a former immigration minister.
Toronto MP Jim Karygiannis objected to the prospect of political interference in the creation of the safe countries list.
"At what price do we sell out to the Conservatives our values?" he said.
"I stand on the side of the people that are in favour of fair refugee reform and reflect the Canadian values which the international community has come to cherish and respect."
A number of MPs said Bevilacqua negotiated the changes to the bill with Ignatieff's blessing. But others said the leader only gave approval in principal to the process and did not sign off on anything — a factor they said Kenney chose to overlook when he boasted of striking a deal with the Liberals.
A senior Liberal adviser insisted: "We don't have a deal."
Please, I urge you, write to Michael Ignatieff and tell him you support this latest development, you support strong amendments to C-11 (especially the so-called "safe countries" provision), and that you support an Opposition that knows how to oppose.
For more on C-11, start here.