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Initial talks in detainee document dispute go 'very well'

All-party talks to resolve access to secret Afghan detainee documents ended this morning with opposition politicians hopeful a solution can be found that doesn't result in a general election.

Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale, who was named yesterday by Michael Ignatieff as the Grit negotiator on this crucial file, said he the meeting this morning was "not confrontational." This comes after weeks of bitter fighting and name-calling in House of Commons over the release of the documents.

Mr. Goodale hopes that approach and the good "tone" will continue with all four parties working together on a consensus. Another round of talks are scheduled for Monday.

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"I hope we can take this at face value, that the government has read and reflected on the Speaker's judgment," Mr. Goodale told reporters after the meeting broke.

Separately, Government House Leader Jay Hill described the initial talks as positive. "It went very well. I think there was a good mood around the room to try and come to some resolution in the best interest of Parliament and Canadians. We're not going to go into details."

Mr. Hill said the parties discussed possible mechanisms for sharing the information with Parliament. "We're looking forward to another meeting next week."

In a historic ruling this week, Speaker Peter Milliken gave the government and opposition two weeks to work out a compromise over the release of the documents. If a solution cannot be found, the government risks being found in contempt - a situation that most certainly could trigger an election.

Newfoundland NDP MP Jack Harris, who attended this morning's meeting, said there is an interest in the committee to get this resolved before the two-week deadline. Already, however, there appears to be some division.

There is suggestion that NDP and Bloc are cool to the idea of having former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci review the documents for Parliament. Right now, the retired justice is looking at the documents, determining which are sensitive to national security, at the behest of Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

One way to resolve the problem would be to reassign Mr. Iacobucci and have him work for Parliament, assisting MPs in looking at the documents. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff opened up the possibility of changing the Iacobucci reference yesterday.

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Mr. Goodale said this morning the issue has not been resolved. He said it was "too early to get into any speculation as to what ideas are on the table for resolution."

But he did not close the door: "That may be a proposition that one might consider for the future. We haven't got into that degree of detail yet."

The Liberal House Leader says everything is on the table at this stage and underscored that the "core point" of Mr. Milliken's ruling is that parliamentarians are the ones who make the decisions in this case. "This is not something to be done by bureaucrats or officials or lawyers or legal counsel," Mr. Goodale said. "This is not the exclusive purview of the government."

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About the Authors
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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