Despite warnings from Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and senior ministers to cool the rhetoric, Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal has slammed U.S. President George W. Bush as a failed statesman.
Liberal sources say Mr. Chrétien, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham and Deputy Prime Minister John Manley have all sought to limit the damage to Canada-U.S. relations by urging MPs not to attack Mr. Bush personally.
But that didn't stop Mr. Dhaliwal from criticizing the U.S. President's handling of the Iraqi crisis, saying he has failed the entire world.
"I think it's really regrettable and unfortunate that he's made this decision when the whole world is crying out for peace," Mr. Dhaliwal said.
"The world expects someone who's the president of a superpower to be a statesman. I think he's let not only Americans, but the world, down by not being a statesman."
Later, after a caucus meeting where Mr. Chrétien referred to Mr. Bush as a friend, the Natural Resources Minister was more muted in his criticism, speaking only of U.S. policy.
Mr. Dhaliwal - a long-time critic of the U.S. administration's security clampdown on immigrants - was the first cabinet minister to condemn the U.S. President, following a long lineup of back-bench MPs who have criticized Mr. Bush's actions and motives.
On Wednesday, Liberal MP Janko Peric ridiculed Mr. Bush's claim that the United States is motivated in part by a desire to liberate the Iraqi people from the harsh regime of Saddam Hussein.
"Do you think President Bush really cares about the people of Iraq? I don't think so," Mr. Peric said.
In caucus Wednesday, Mr. Chrétien said he and Mr. Bush disagree on many issues such as abortion and capital punishment, but they do not let those differences get in the way of good relations between the two governments and the two countries.
"Friends can agree to disagree," Mr. Chrétien said, according to one MP.
Other Liberal MPs acknowledged that senior ministers - including Mr. Graham and Mr. Manley - were warning backbenchers to stick to a principled opposition to the war, rather than target Mr. Bush personally.
Toronto MP Roy Cullen refused to provide details, but said several ministers have expressed concerns to caucus members over the personal attacks on the President.
"I think we need to be careful now," Mr. Cullen said after the caucus meeting. "This is a delicate time in relations between Canada and the United States. We've taken a pretty serious decision and we don't need to rub it in their faces."
Mr. Dhaliwal's comments drew a harsh rebuke from Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper and Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark.
Mr. Harper called Mr. Dhaliwal's statement "stupid comments from a senior member of the government.
"This is more evidence that what really drives the government's policy is a kind of anti-American sentiment rather than any real evaluation of the needs of Canadians," Mr. Harper said.
"This government, through its handling of the crisis, has put [Canadians]on the wrong side of the world community, on the wrong side of our historic allies."
Mr. Clark called for Mr. Dhaliwal's resignation.
"I think that Mr. Dhaliwal has got to sort out whether he wants to be a private citizen expressing private opinions or a minister of the Crown," the Tory Leader said.
"If he is going to express opinions of that kind, he has a perfect right to express them so long as he resigns. If he is going to remain in the cabinet, having made that statement, he should stand up in the House of Commons and withdraw it, or the Prime Minister should require him to."
Mr. Graham said he did not agree with Mr. Dhaliwal's view.
"The United States is exercising their sovereign right in their judgment, what is appropriate for them as a sovereign country to do, and I respect that decision," the Foreign Minister said.
Mr. Manley told reporters that Liberal MPs should "avoid as much as possible any [negative]characterization of the U.S. and its motives."
He said Mr. Bush "has his own set of challenges to deal with and is doing it to the best of his ability."
With a report from Jane Taber