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Liberal Leader takes blame for Commons confusion

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is seen during a party caucus meeting in Ottawa on March 24, 2010.

Adrian Wyld

Michael Ignatieff told his national caucus today he is accepting full blame for yesterday's debacle in the House of Commons. The Liberal Leader's act of contrition was repeated by other senior caucus members; Chief Opposition Whip Rodger Cuzner did the same.

It was not a good day for the party yesterday and for that Mr. Ignatieff said he was sorry. He told his caucus, according to sources, that he can do better as he apologized for the embarrassment caused after Liberals voted against their own motion on the Harper government's maternal health initiative.

The Grits lost the vote after three of their own MPs opposed it; others abstained and some Liberal MPs, who are pro-life, were told to stay away from the Commons, according to sources. Usually, there are consequences for not toeing the line in a whipped vote. Clearly, given the leader's comments today, the MPs who voted against the motion will not be punished.

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It seemed the motion was really aimed at stirring up the Tory bench over reproductive issues, such as abortion. Some members of the Liberal caucus were uncomfortable with that inference. In the end it managed to divide the opposition rather than fracture the government.

At least the Liberal Leader was thinking strategically today. By taking the blame and admitting to his mistakes even before caucus really got under way, however, Mr. Ignatieff was able to defuse what could have been a very contentious caucus meeting.

Some Liberals were on edge yesterday after losing the vote on the motion. Not surprising as that defeat was followed by another miscue in which several Liberal MPs - on the instructions of the Whip, who was mistaken - voted with the government, supporting some of the Tory spending initiatives in a confidence motion.

This provoked much glee from the government benches as they watched the confused Liberals from across the Commons floor. "It's raining frogs," Industry Minister Tony Clement said on Twitter.

Today, the NDP also weighed in, mocking the Liberals. "Yesterday's vote shows that when it comes to standing up for women's rights around the world, or just getting their act together, the Liberal Party is a failure," the New Democrats said in a news release.

A Liberal source described today's caucus meeting today as "low key" in the wake of Mr. Ignatieff's apology.

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