Coderre's actions were unforgivable

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National Post, Friday, October 2, 2009

Denis Coderre knew perfectly well the centrifugal forces he was unleashing when he angrily resigned as Michael Ignatieff's Quebec lieutenant and chief organizer on Monday, accusing the Liberal leader of being unduly influenced by "Toronto advisors, who know nothing about the social and political realities of Quebec."

For more than a century, the two pillars of the Liberal party's dynastic hold on the country have been the alliance of Ontario and Quebec, and the unity of English-and French-speaking Canadians. Coderre's stinging accusations cut to this very soul of the Liberal family, which follows the principle of alternating leadership, l'alternance. The Liberals are the party of Laurier, St. Laurent, Trudeau and Chretien, but also of Mackenzie King, Pearson, Turner and Martin (who comes from both provinces).

Coderre crossed a line, and there shall be no return to any kind of leadership role in the Liberal party. It would have been one thing had he simply resigned from his job as Quebec lieutenant on a question of principle, saying he no longer had "the moral authority" to be the party's provincial boss. But his further broadside about Toronto advisors was unforgivable.

The other unforgivable intervention of the last week was Bob Rae going public with a declaration that room "must be found" for Martin Cauchon, Coderre's nemesis. This put a very public Toronto-based face on Ignatieff's Quebec flip-flop -- thereby serving as Exhibit A to Coderre's rant.

Coderre, like Cauchon, has nurtured ambitions, or perhaps illusions, of being the Quebec candidate in the next leadership cycle, and at a minimum becoming Quebec lieutenant in a Liberal government, a powerful role from the days of Ernest Lapointe under King, and Marc Lalonde under Trudeau.

In the days when Lalonde was the party's boss in Quebec, he was known for le gant de velour et la main de fer -- the velvet glove and the iron fist.

And in those days, a lot of the dirty work was done by Andre Ouellet, in the role of chief organizer. Ouellet was Coderre's mentor, and there's more than a passing resemblance between them.

More than one MP has complained about Coderre's brusque methods, and he overplayed his hand in trying to muscle aside four sitting members, including former leader Stephane Dion. If you're going to ask incumbents to stand down, it helps if you can offer to send them to their reward in the Senate.

Coderre didn't have the patronage purse to smooth the rough edges of his strong-arm tactics. And to read the latest numbers on Wednesday from the authoritative CROP poll, Quebec won't be helping the Liberals to government anytime soon.

Ignatieff's honeymoon with Quebecers, when the Liberals surged past the Bloc to 35% in June, was a spring fling. Iggy's lost summer, and the blowback from his decision to try to bring down the government, have taken the Liberals down nine points to 26% in Quebec, with the Conservatives rebounding eight points to 21%, with the Bloc back in the lead at 33%. This means the Liberals have been pushed back into Fortress Montreal, while the Conservatives have regained strength in the critical 418 area of Quebec City and eastern Quebec.

And remember that the poll was taken before Coderre's spectacular flameout on Monday. He's not going quietly. Yesterday, he did a taping of Radio-Canada's popular Tout le monde en parle. And the Liberal party's Quebec wing is meeting this weekend in Quebec City. As Coderre has posted on his Facebook page about the Cauchon saga: "A suivre."

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