It's a good decision in the end, and the process speaks to leadership style. Ignatieff will allow Newfoundland MP's to vote against the budget, a decision which seems entirely appropriate.
Beyond the most obvious of optics, a party "divided", the usual kneejerk stuff from predictable sources, this decision actually works in the Liberals favor for a number of reasons. First, and foremost, the votes demonstrate that Liberal support isn't a blanket endorsement, the nonsensical notions of coalition and all the other superficial drivel. Having some MP's vote against, sends a clear signal that Liberals are conflicted, a decision made in totality doesn't translate into propping up anybody. There is little room for fallout, because Canadians overwhelming want the budget to pass, so this symbolic expression merely reaffirms our displeasure with the Conservatives. Ignatieff was right to speak with Harper, attempt to force changes, but no one, including Danny Williams, expected that recommendation to be a deal breaker. Nobody, including the participants, are arguing for the Liberals to bring the government down over this issue, they merely want to express their rejection and highlight an unfair, unilateral move by the Conservatives. The Liberal position is different, and a Liberal led government will re-visit and revise as appropriate.
The fact Ignatieff huddled with these MP's, in such a fashion that he was open to listening, rather than dictating, provides a positive on leadership style. Ignatieff could whip the vote, or sanction dissent, but by allowing a "one" off here, on a critical issue to Newfoundlanders, he sends a signal that he appreciates the concerns, in fact he agrees. Compare that approach to Harper's, when faced with a similar circumstance in Bill Casey, and Ignatieff looks relatively positive. Ignatieff allows these MP's to vote their conscience, but maintains the overall position, that allows this vote to pass. The final outcome remains the same, but the Liberals are spared the public spectacle of iron fist submission, fall in line or face consequences.
When the vote occurs tonight, obviously attention will be given to Newfoundland MP's. However, what seems to be absent, the rejection of the Conservative policy doesn't seem to translate to a rejection of Ignatieff's decision for the party. These MP's understand the different considerations, as do the most vocal voices from Newfoundland, the Liberals aren't damaged, it's Harper's decision that is at issue. In the end, I like the optics of Liberals wrestling with their decision, because it speaks to complicated consideration, it demonstrates clearly that we are no fans of the Conservatives, and a Liberal government would operate differently. This issue came up in the aftermath of the initial decision to support, and I would suggest that Ignatieff's handling and reaction have turned something potentially explosive into a net neutral circumstance, that brings little political consequence, and beyond that, benefit to these MP's in question, who stay true, without altering party direction.
Cue the ankle bitters...