Denis Coderre quit as Quebec lieutenant for Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff earlier this week. It is a minor story. It changes few votes. For the Liberals in Quebec, it is really an opportunity.
To fully understand the reasons, you need to start with the ugly truth that, in Quebec, federal politics is a blood sport. It is not democratic. It is not honest and it is that way because Quebec voters are used to it that way. Nothing is more ingrained in the Québécois psyche than the desire to make sure that the pur laine (real Quebeckers) get everything possible from the blockheads (les anglais).
Once you know that about Quebec politics, life becomes much simpler. And please do not get me wrong. I love the part of my country that is Quebec. I regret I will never be as bilingual as I would like to be but that takes living for some period of time in a French-speaking environment and I have never had that pleasure. We were in Quebec recently and I was delighted to find during the visit that there were less of the antagonisms that used to worry me about relations between our two language groups. In politics it is not so much antagonisms as it is leverage. And you do not have to be a Bloc Québécois politician to make use of it.
What we in Ontario would consider cynical, in Quebec is considered merely practical. For example: What if Denis Coderre flipped a coin with his rival for the Quebec leadership of the federal Liberals, Martin Cauchon, to see who would support Michael Ignatieff and who would support the other likely Ontario contender for the national leadership, Bob Rae? Denis Coderre probably feared he had lost when he drew Ignatieff. In the long term, he won. Now, as Quebec lieutenant, he uses the opportunity to tell his old friend Martin that he cannot have his old riding back when Cauchon decides to return to the game. Denis was deeply affronted by Ignatieff’s office telling him that he cannot do that. His authority has been compromised, so Denis quits, complaining in a news conference about the blockheads in Ignatieff’s office.
That might be considered by some to be a Quebec version of the middle finger. What it really does is give Michael Ignatieff a chance to clean house in Quebec. It will give him a chance to find a less dictatorial Quebec Lieutenant. It might just give him an opportunity to find a new breed of Quebec lieutenant who can bring some democracy and honesty to Quebec Liberal politics. That might not be what is really wanted by all Liberal politicians in the province but it really has to happen sooner or later.
The idea that the Bloc Québécois is going to benefit from Denis Coderre’s complaint is quite unlikely as Denis is only complaining about something Bloc voters already believe. There is nothing new about the complaint that the federal Liberals are run from Toronto. (You just have to listen to Alberta Reformers to learn that.)
What Coderre knows is that the coming election campaign is going to be won or lost in Ontario. The strategy for the Liberals in Quebec will be to hold traditional seats and to target weak Conservative seats and the one NDP-held riding. If the swing occurs, Ignatieff will get the credit, not the Quebec lieutenant. If the swing does not happen, Denis gets another chance, with another anglo leader, probably from Toronto.
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