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Sheila Copps has spurned an offer from a Liberal colleague in Hamilton to vacate her seat and help heal a deep rift in the governing party.

Beth Phinney, a veteran backbencher, said Tuesday she had offered to abandon her Hamilton Mountain seat and give Ms. Copps an unobstructed shot at the party nomination there for the next general election.

The move would allow Ms. Copps, a former deputy prime minister and heritage minister, to avoid a nomination battle with Transport Minister Tony Valeri in the riding of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek.

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But Ms. Copps said Ms. Phinney never told her about the offer before going public with it. When the two finally did speak, later Tuesday, Ms. Copps turned down the deal.

"I'm not interested in trading ridings like we trade hockey cards," said Ms. Copps.

"The reason I want to represent the citizens of Hamilton East-Stony Creek is because they want someone to fight for their issues and their concerns. They believe in me, and there's no way that I can turn my back on them."

Ms. Phinney said she wasn't offended that Ms. Copps refused the deal.

"I did what I could and I don't think it worked, but I can understand it," said Ms. Phinney. "Why would you want to run in somebody else's riding?"

Ms. Phinney said she had spoken to Prime Minister Paul Martin, and he had given his approval for her to step aside and let Ms. Copps run in Hamilton Mountain.

The Prime Minister's Office refused to say anything and referred queries to Liberal party headquarters in Ottawa, where there was no immediate comment.

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Ms. Phinney, for her part, said Liberal solidarity is suffering because of the bitter battle between Ms. Copps and Mr. Valeri, a rising star in the Martin cabinet.

"It's not a positive point, it's not a positive event and I think it was hurting the party," said Ms. Phinney.

Ms. Copps, the only person to challenge Martin for the party leadership throughout last year's race, has previously turned down patronage appointment offers from the prime minister.

She was also unwilling to move to an adjacent riding created with the recent federal boundary redistributions, arguing that Mr. Valeri should be the one to make the move.

The nomination fight has prompted Ms. Copps to publicly muse about offers to join the NDP if she loses the Liberal nod to Mr. Valeri.

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