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The Globe and Mail

Ignatieff must rebuild after rifts exposed

Pawel Dwulit/Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press

Midway through his scrum with the national media Monday, Michael Ignatieff put his tongue in his cheek and deadpanned: "It's another great day in the life of the Leader of the Opposition."

Hardly. These are among Mr. Ignatieff's darkest days as Liberal Leader. To say that he going through a rough patch is an understatement.

Where to begin?

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Liberal support is sliding in the national opinion polls while support for the Harper Conservatives is climbing.

A much ballyhooed fundraiser planned for Thursday in Vaughan, Ont., which was to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars to Liberal coffers, has been suddenly postponed - delayed because the Liberal confidence vote that a month ago was to bring down the government is to take place that day. It is meaningless now that the NDP is supporting the government.

And Monday, the day the no-confidence motion was tabled and the Liberal narrative was to be all about strength, conviction and a unified caucus, the narrative was all about disunity, treachery and the humiliation of the leader.

Despite the brave faces from Ignatieff MPs and officials, the resignation of Denis Coderre as Quebec lieutenant and defence critic - over a dust-up about who would run in a prized Montreal riding - is a blow not only to the party and its fortunes in Quebec, but also to Mr. Ignatieff's leadership.

"This is a darker day than most think," a Liberal strategist said. "This is going to have repercussions."

No one disputes Mr. Coderre's ability as a Quebec organizer. And after Monday's news conference, no one will dispute his ability to destabilize a situation.

Mr. Coderre let it all hang out, saying he no longer felt he had the moral authority to act as the Quebec lieutenant.

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He dropped another bombshell, too, questioning the political acumen of the rather-new-to-politics Toronto crowd around Mr. Ignatieff, wondering how Quebec politics can be done from Toronto. He was referring to the fact that it appeared decisions around who should run in the Montreal riding of Outremont were being made in Toronto, by Mr. Ignatieff's inner circle, and not in Quebec by Mr. Coderre and his team.

It has been a constant criticism of the Ignatieff inner circle that too many are from Toronto, but Mr. Coderre was the first to say so publicly.

Mr. Ignatieff is not immune to this, either. He is said to be disappointed in himself. In conversations with friends over the weekend, he lamented the fact that he hasn't taken seriously enough the caucus's concerns about making his office more broadly based.

"Michael is a lot of things, but he's not stupid," a veteran Liberal official said. "He knows that this is not very good."

Not very good because there are questions now about who is really in charge of the party: Mr. Ignatieff, or the so-called Toronto officials who pushed former Chrétien cabinet minister Martin Cauchon's candidacy over the woman Mr. Coderre chose to run in Outremont.

Some Liberals are saying Mr. Ignatieff has rebuilding to do, not just in the party but in his own office. "He can't take this lightly."

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Others, however, don't buy the doom and gloom.

"Michael is not going to be held hostage by anyone," Mississauga MP Albina Guarnieri said. "Denis has done a great job of lining up candidates. Unfortunately, he had to do what he did. This is most unfortunate."

Other Liberals say the Quebec executive is solidly behind Mr. Ignatieff's decision. "I don't want to play into it," said one of the Toronto officials, refusing to comment about the Toronto-Quebec divide.

And in the end, the result is two strong candidates running in Quebec ridings.

In an interview published this past weekend in Britain's Observer newspaper - that seems now to have been timed with precision - Mr. Ignatieff reflected on the bruising world of political life.

"I married the right woman. That has turned out to be the most important single fact. I'm not going to die out there if people don't like me because there's someone at home who thinks I'm okay. I can't put it more directly than that."

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About the Author
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

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