Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is facing increasing pressure from within his caucus to accommodate former cabinet minister Martin Cauchon, who wants to run in the next election.
In interviews with CBC News, several Liberal MPs went public with their views about the party's decision to reserve the Liberal nomination in the Montreal riding of Outremont for business executive Nathalie Le Prohon.
"For me, the best candidate to win should get the riding," Quebec MP Bernard Patry said. "Mr. Cauchon knows the riding, I have no clue if Madame Le Prohon knows the riding."
Quebec MP Alexandra Mendes noted: "Mr. Cauchon has proven his mettle. He has nothing to prove. The party should make Mr. Cauchon very welcome and give him whatever chance he needs to help us form the government."
The Liberal leader appears to be responding to the concerns. Ignatieff's office confirmed to CBC News that he spoke with Cauchon by phone Thursday and offered him the Liberal nomination in the Bloc Québécois-held riding of Jeanne-Le Ber.
Ignatieff's office said it was awaiting Cauchon's decision. Cauchon did not respond to requests for comment.
MP for 11 years
Cauchon, a former justice minister who spearheaded legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, served 11 years as an MP in Outremont under Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien, but retired from politics in 2004 after Paul Martin took power. He now wants to return to political life.
But last week, the Liberal Party's Quebec lieutenant, Denis Coderre, sidelined Cauchon when he announced the Outremont nomination would be reserved for another candidate of his choosing.
That candidate is widely reported to be Le Prohon, who was president of Nokia Canada and served as a senior executive at IBM and Hydro-Québec.
This week, Cauchon appealed to the Liberal leader to reverse Coderre's decision. But Ignatieff sided with his lieutenant, saying it was part of a strategy to renew the party by recruiting female star candidates to run in ridings that are winnable.
Ignatieff's decision created divisions between Coderre and Cauchon supporters and a backlash in the blogosphere.
On Wednesday, Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae was the first MP to express concerns about the decision, telling The Canadian Press "room must be found" for Cauchon in the party.
In addition to Rae, Patry and Mendes, other MPs have weighed in publicly, including Quebec MPs Raymonde Folco and Massimo Pacetti. Both said there is another option available to the party — a nomination race between Cauchon and Le Prohon.
"He [Ignatieff] does have another possibility according to the constitution. The possibility of the two having a race for the riding," Folco said.
"I'm a believer in a nomination contest," said Pacetti. "I think it should have been an open battle."
Some Liberal MPs would not agree to speak on the record, but told CBC News they are firmly against the decision to reserve the nomination for Le Prohon. Others said they are less sympathetic to Cauchon and wonder how significant his interest in running is, since he didn't declare his intentions until recently.