OTTAWA — Michael Ignatieff seems destined to emerge from a Liberal caucus retreat this week feeling something like a pushmi-pullyu.
Like the fictional two-headed llama, the Liberal leader will be pushed and pulled in opposite directions as his MPs agonize over whether they should — finally — pull the plug on Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government.
For their part, MPs may well feel like they’re caught in a bad remake of the movie Groundhog Day, doomed to relive the same should-we-or-shouldn’t-we debate over and over and over again.
It’s a debate they perfected during Stephane Dion’s troubled tenure as leader, repeatedly rattling their election sabres only to sheath them grudgingly when dismal opinion polls and the party’s own lack of preparedness forced them to back down.
The pattern has continued since Ignatieff took the helm last December.
Liberals swallowed their objections and supported the Conservatives’ recession-busting budget in January. They turned the trick again in June, backing away from the election brink after wringing a small concession from Harper: the creation of a bipartisan working group to study employment insurance reform.
At the time, Liberal spinners assured reporters this would be the last time the party would shy away from forcing an election. They boldly predicted defeat of the government was all but certain in the first week of October, when the Liberals would use a promised opposition day to propose a motion of non-confidence.
But as Liberal MPs and senators prepare to gather in Sudbury this week to plot strategy for the resumption of Parliament on Sept. 14, election-mongering is already giving way to calls for delay, if not outright retreat.