Some Liberals are confused as to where their leader, Michael Ignatieff, stands on issues. Wednesday night was a good example.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, a human rights expert and former academic, indicated last week in caucus he was not in favour of a private member's bill by Scarborough MP John McKay that called for Canadian mining firms to act ethically abroad or face sanctions, including being denied taxpayer funding.
In caucus this week, however, sources say he did not say a word about it. Instead his Whip, Marcel Proulx, was quietly encouraging Liberal MPs to stay away from the third reading vote Wednesday evening to ensure the bill would be defeated.
Some Liberals were perturbed that Mr. Ignatieff was inserting himself into private member's business as many MPs view such legislation as their sole opportunity - amid all sorts of control measures by party officials - to practice democracy by voting freely.
Later in the day, perhaps fearing a bit of a backlash from MPs, Mr. Ignatieff's office sent out a curious backgrounder and series of talking points regarding the bill to caucus members just before Wednesday's vote. It seemed to suggest the Liberals were falling in line behind Mr. McKay's proposal.
ISSUE: The House of Commons will vote on Liberal John McKay's Private Member's Bill C-300 today, which supports the principle of Corporate Social Responsibility for Canadian mining, oil and gas companies in developing countries.
KEY MESSAGES: Liberals recognize the importance of the mining, gas and oil industry to Canada. We believe that a commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) - at home and abroad - makes good business sense and is a Canadian advantage. We are sending a strong message of the government that they cannot continue to ignore CSR for Canadian companies.
It then went on to note that this controversial bill could be improved in the Senate. Some Liberals thought this meant the party leadership was now in favour of the bill.
But it wasn't to be. A short while later the bill was defeated thanks to a number of Liberal MPs, including Mr. Ignatieff, who did not come show up to vote. Mr. McKay's legislation was defeated 140 to 134.
Then, a few minutes after the vote, the Liberals sent out another release. "Despite the defeat of C-300, the Liberal Party remains committed to the important principle of corporate social responsibility for Canadian industries at home and abroad," Mr. Igntaieff said in the statement.
He went on to talk about having an "open and transparent process" to deal with CSR issues. Not surprisingly, some Liberals were scratching their heads as to where Mr. Ignatieff actually stands on this issue.
It was reminiscent of the reversal Mr. Ignatieff made on employment insurance last month when he decided that measures for a broad range of enhancements to EI, included in a Bloc MP's bill, were too expensive and no longer necessary. This, after he had vowed a year before to try to take down the Harper government because it would not make some of the same reforms.
Mr. Ignatieff said the bill was "not fiscally responsible" and he did not show up for the vote. However, his employment insurance critic, Mike Savage, supported the Bloc bill. In the end, it too was defeated.