Ignatieff has bridge-building to do in Quebec
It will take some time for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to recover from the abrupt resignation of his right-hand man in Quebec, according to political observers, who say discord in the party will hamper its chances with Canadian voters in the next election.
Denis Coderre stepped down as Ignatieff's Quebec lieutenant Monday after a rift with the Liberal leader over who should run in the key Montreal riding of Outremont: Coderre's choice of businesswoman Nathalie Le Prohon, or former justice minister Martin Cauchon, who held the riding for 11 years before retiring from politics in 2004.
Ignatieff chose Cauchon, which led Coderre to say he no longer had the "moral authority" to be Ignatieff's lieutenant in Quebec, and criticized the leader's inner circle of Toronto-based advisers for trying to run Quebec politics from Ontario.
Conservative strategist Geoff Norquay told CTV's Power Play Monday night that Coderre's very public, and very bitter, departure does not bode well for the Liberal leader's fortunes.
"He went away taking some pretty serious shots at his leader, Mr. Ignatieff, and raised some fundamental questions about not only his leader's leadership capabilities but the people around him," Norquay said. "And I guess the bottom line here is there's an old adage in politics, especially when you're the leader of the opposition: if you can't run your own party, then how can you expect the Canadian people to turn over the keys to Parliament and the government of Canada?"
About a month ago, Ignatieff declared that he would no longer support Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government. He led his party in a vote against the ways and means portion of the Tories' budget last week and has introduced a confidence motion to be voted on Thursday.
It appears a fall election has been averted on the NDP's decision to prop up the government over EI reform.
But the fracas "exposes deep rifts within the party in Quebec," said CTV Parliamentary Correspondent Roger Smith, and is "a serious blow to (Ignatieff's) credibility in the province."
"(Coderre) was in charge of rebuilding the Liberal house in Quebec and what he did yesterday, basically he started to burn the house down," Smith said Tuesday on CTV News Channel.
"This is the province where the Liberals hoped to make big gains in the next election. Now they've lost the guy who recruited all the candidates."
On Monday, Coderre said he was leaving the Quebec wing in great shape, having secured 68 strong Liberal candidates out of 75 Quebec ridings.
Ignatieff announced late in the day that he would take over the Quebec file for the foreseeable future.
Liberal strategist Mike Robinson said Ignatieff still has a strong team in Quebec that he can rally to right the ship and move forward.
"The reality is that, partly because the party is doing so well in Quebec under Mr. Ignatieff's leadership, there are a lot of people that want to get nominations, there are people who want to get involved in the party," Robinson told Power Play. "So he's still got a very strong base to build on in Quebec and I'm very confident that he still has a very strong team there to take the party forward into the next election."
But Ignatieff has a lot of bridge-building to do first, Smith said, and he'll have the chance at two key meetings this week.
He has a fundraising dinner in Laval on Tuesday night, which will be packed with Coderre loyalists. And this weekend, the party's Quebec wing is meeting in Quebec City, another gathering where he could face some hostility.
"A lot of them obviously have their first loyalty to Denis Coderre because he is the guy that recruited them. He is the guy that put the team together on the ground," Smith said. "Obviously when Michael Ignatieff took over the leadership he had a great initial appeal in the province and hopes were that the party would be able to build on that. But he's got problems ahead."