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Michael Ignatieff faces caucus rift over Afghan extension Add to ...

Michael Ignatieff heard from furious MPs Wednesday, upset with his decision to support the Harper government’s extension of the Afghan mission without any consultation or vote in the Commons, according to a caucus source.

Behind the closed doors of the party meeting, the Liberal Leader asked MPs not to talk to the media about their concerns. He admitted they may not have liked the process but urged them to talk to him, according to a source.

At one point Toronto MP Bob Rae, considered Mr. Ignatieff’s biggest rival, stood up to support the leader, reminding caucus members that Mr. Ignateiff outlined the Liberal position – about troops staying in Afghanistan to help train the military and police – this summer.

At the time it was announced, however, it was believed the Harper government would bring the troops home next July as scheduled. No one thought he would change his mind.

“So then Michael said, ‘You ... may not have liked the process but I did announce it in June and if you have a problem come and talk to me, don’t go talk to the media about it’,” the source said.

The Liberal caucus is clearly split over Mr. Ignatieff’s decision to support the Harper government. The leader’s support was given even before the details of the new training mission were announced.

The government formally laid out its plan on Tuesday. Last Friday morning, however, Mr. Rae told The Globe and Mail he supported the government, saying there was no need for a debate or vote in the House of Commons. Later that day, Mr. Ignatieff supported Mr. Rae’s view.

Liberal insiders believe Mr. Ignatieff would not win a vote and that is why it is being avoided. The Liberal leadership does not want to reveal a split in the ranks.

“If there was a vote, I think Michael would lose the vote,” the insider said. “He would lose the vote. I don’t think caucus would support him.”

Several Liberals, including Toronto MPs Rob Oliphant and Gerard Kennedy, spoke about their displeasure with the way in which the decision was handled, the source said. At least one Quebec MP also spoke out against the process.

Another MP told The Globe he came to the Liberal Party to “have a voice,” adding that he was “very, very displeased with how this was handled.” Many MPs first heard about the Liberal position in the media.

“They were furious,” the caucus insider said. “The general consensus ... was that Harper has pulled the rug out from underneath Michael and that Michael should have been prepared.”

The source noted, however, that Mr. Oliphant did say that at the end of the day he supported the leader, but he believes the Liberal position could be a “tough sell” for him in his riding.

The NDP has come out hard against the Liberals on this issue, accusing them of making a deal with the government. They have argued for a civilian mission that would be less costly and less dangerous. And with a new commitment of 950 troops to remain for three more years, the NDP says this commitment should be voted on in the Commons.

“There has been no consultation,” the Liberal insider said. “Caucus is not happy about it.”

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