Michael Ignatieff's Liberals wanted to debate maternal health in developing countries today. Instead, they are defending themselves against Conservative charges of being anti-American.
It was as if a parallel universe was operating in the House of Commons. Not wanting to be trapped into a debate about abortion that could flow from the Liberal motion being discussed, the Tories adopted a unique strategy.
They accused the Liberals of "rash, extreme anti-American rhetoric" that could damage the trading relationship.
The government strategy focused on one part of the opposition motion, which said "the Canadian government should refrain from advancing the failed right-wing ideologies previously imposed by the George W. Bush administration in the United States, which made humanitarian assistance conditional upon a 'global gag rule' that required all non-governmental organizations receiving federal funding to refrain from promoting medically-sound family planning."
International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda wasted no time in announcing the government's decision to vote against the Liberals. "The motion contains a rash, extreme anti-American rhetoric that we cannot as a matter of foreign policy support."
Her words were echoed by other Conservative MPs participating in the debate, and ultimately the motion was defeated.
The broad intent of the Liberal motion is to call for more clarity around Stephen Harper's maternal health initiative, which he is taking to the G8 summit in Muskoka this summer.
Confusion around the government's initiative reigned last week after two senior cabinet ministers said contraception would not be part of it. The government later backed down on this assertion.
But there was also a view by the Tories that the Liberals - although they never state it explicitly in their motion - are trying to trick them into reopening a debate over abortion rights. The issue is one the Conservatives want to avoid at all costs as it has hurt them in previous elections.
"This motion is a transparent attempt to reopen the abortion debate that we have clearly said we have no intention of getting into," Ms. Oda said.
The motion was put forward earlier today by Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae. It was voted down this evening by a vote of 144 to 138.
"It think it would it would be also fair to say that one thing that we have all learned from the Olympics and the Paralympics is that we are proudest as a country when we are setting a standard for the rest of the world," Mr. Rae said.
He accused the government on being inconsistent on maternal health, arguing Conservative MPs should "clear the air" by supporting the motion and "making it very clear that we are not going to allow ideology to trump science."
"We are not going to allow a narrow view of what the problem is to make it more difficult for Canada to be successful," Mr. Rae said.
But the Tories have made it clear they will not support the motion. Ontario MP Rick Dykstra was particularly aggressive in his attacks on Mr. Rae.
Noting the Liberal MP is a former NDP premier, Mr. Dykstra said he has never in the four years that he has been in the House introduced a motion or private members bill attacking what another politician did in another jurisdiction.
"Now he did a lot of bad things to Ontario in five years," Mr. Dykstra said, arguing that a motion that explicitly attacks a former U.S. president will drive Canadians further apart from their American neighbours.
"We will not accept it," he said. "We won't support it."