Jason Kenney is accusing Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff of putting politics over national interest by caving in to a bunch of "ideological hotheads" in his caucus who opposed reforms to the broken refugee system.
The Immigration Minister, appearing on CTV's Question Period Sunday, thought he had a deal with the Liberals on a reform package; in fact, he had worked with Liberal immigration critic Maurizio Bevilacqua, who had Mr. Ignatieff's blessing, for more than 14 months negotiating a deal.
Mr. Bevilacqua and Mr. Kenney had a good working relationship and were an example of how parties can work together in what has often been an acrimonious minority Parliament.
More bizarre - and evidence of Mr. Ignatieff's precarious hold on his caucus - is that the MPs who convinced him to fold on this issue and Related contentwithdraw his support were among those who have previously hurt his leadership, including former immigration minister Denis Coderre, who quit in a fit of pique as Mr. Ignatieff's Quebec lieutenant.
"By listening to (these MPs) he's actually strengthening the hand of the those people organizing to screw him," said one MP.
And now Mr. Kenney, who was poised to bring his bill back for third reading as early as this week, may end up pulling the bill entirely.
"So you know what? At the end of the day it's all about, I think it's all about politics on their part, which is unfortunate," said Mr. Kenney during the broadcast. "I think Canadians expect us to focus on solutions rather than partisanship on an issue like this."
This criticism of the Liberal Leader comes as his judgment is being questioned on another front: He mused this weekend about forming a coalition government, saying one would be " legitimate " but not until he sees what voters have to say in the next election.
There are some Liberal MPs who believe Mr. Ignatieff should be concentrating on putting forward policies that would propel his party to forming a majority government rather than musing about coalition governments.
And his decision last week to reverse himself on refugee reform also speaks to his leadership abilities.
Mr. Ignatieff had wholeheartedly supported the negotiations between Mr. Kenney and Mr. Bevilacqua. In fact, a senior member of the Opposition Leader's office sat in on many of the negotiation sessions, indicating that the leader was supportive of the process.
But last Wednesday at caucus it all fell apart.
Several Liberal MPs, including Mr. Coderre and former leadership rival Gerard Kennedy, lined up behind the caucus microphones to condemn the package that would speed decisions about refugees by cutting appeals from those who come from countries deemed "safe." The bill, which would have invested $600-million in the refugee system, also included a refugee appeal division.
A source said that Mr. Ignatieff did not say anything about the bill at the caucus. He simply listened. The next day, however, he issued a series of talking points, indicating the deal was off.
There is a view that professional jealousies are, in part, behind some of the MPs' opposition to the bill, especially the issue of a refugee appeal division, which Liberals were not able to deliver when they were in government.
As well, there are many Liberals who are distrustful of Mr. Kenney and his right-wing views.
Says Mr. Kenney: "I would think the Liberal Party, if it wants to pretend to be a future government, should be addressing serious issues in a serious way, working with other parties collaboratively … rather than letting politics and ideological fancies ... override public interest."
Explaining the Ignatieff about-face
Here are the talking points - issued to MPs and Liberal supporters - about the refugee reform bill:
» After consultations with caucus, the Liberal party has decided that it cannot support the government's refugee reform bill in its current form.
» Like all Canadians, we want a more effective refugee system. But like all Canadians, we also want it to be fair.
» When looking for that balance, Liberals will always err on the side of fairness when dealing with people's lives.
» We negotiated in good faith with all parties to improve this bill, and our Immigration critic, Maurizio Bevilacqua, did an excellent job in trying to improve a flawed bill.
» Serious concerns were expressed by members of our caucus and by the vast majority of experts about the fairness of many aspects of this bill.
» After extensive consultations with our caucus, we came to the conclusion that this bill is not ready yet and that some serious issues must be addressed before it should be considered further. In particular:
• The significant changes to applications on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. • The potential negative consequences of safe country of origin provisions. • We believe that trying to deal with current bilateral diplomatic issues by drastically changing the refugee system with safe country of origin provisions is not the way to go. • Unfortunately, Jason Kenney was boasting about a "deal" while discussions were on-going, showing that he was more interested in scoring political points than dealing in a responsible way with an issue Canadians care about. • We remain open to discussion with all parties in order to improve the current refugee system but feel that this bill, even with some improvement, is not the one our country needs.
(Photo: Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
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