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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 11:39 am
 


$1:
Grit infighting unorchestrated, 'fratricide on a large scale'
Grits say the destructive infighting has to stop and they're likely to 'take a beating' in Quebec in next election.
By Abbas Rana and Kate Malloy
The dramatic Liberal infighting against new leader Stéphane Dion is not being orchestrated by senior Liberals or former leadership rivals, but appears to be "fratricide on a large scale," say some Liberals; nonetheless, some say Mr. Dion has to do a lot more to bring the party together.

Warren Kinsella, a Liberal and a strategist for Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty, said the Liberal Party of Canada has "lost most of its discipline and it has lost one of the two things that made it win–managerial competence," and it used to be the federalist party. He said "the kvetchers and complainers are hurting mainly themselves."

"Having lived through the decade-long Martin putsch... this just looks like fratricide on a large scale," said Mr. Kinsella, dismissing the theory that some Liberals want to go to the polls this fall in an effort to get rid of Grit Leader Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Que.). "It's a bizarre way to go about doing it. If Dion increases his seat totals–which is eminently plausible, if you look at months of polling–he won't be going anywhere. Besides when opposition leader Stephen Harper lost a crucial byelection [Perth Wellington], he didn't quit, notwithstanding what some complainers were demanding. Looks like it was the right decision, eh?"

Derek Raymaker, a Dion supporter and Liberal blogger, told The Hill Times that he would consider it a "bloody tragedy if a handful of disgruntled apparatchiks railroaded a sitting Liberal leader through nothing more than vindictive, anonymous leakage," and said he knows "for a fact that all former leadership candidates are solidly behind the leader. I've been exceedingly impressed with how hard they have been working to rebuild the party."

Mr. Raymaker said the problem lies with "a half-dozen or so malcontents on suicide missions, entirely in Quebec, and maybe a half-dozen other bitter failures in low-level MPs' staff posts in Ottawa."

Another top Liberal, meanwhile, who traded anonymity for candour, said a lot of Liberals are "freelancing" their own agendas.

Declared the Grit, who supported Michael Ignatieff (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ont.) in the last Liberal leadership campaign: "The leader is the party's brand and if they run down the leader, they run down the brand and if they run down the brand, whoever will be the leader will suffer that and we don't have that much political capital or the brand right now that we can afford to drive it down any further."

However, the Liberal source said the party elected a leader who did not have "very deep roots in the party" when it voted for Mr. Dion, who after the conclusion of the leadership, did not reach out to rival leadership camps.

The source said up until last week–when Mr. Dion announced the appointment of John Rae, brother of Bob Rae, and Ontario Liberal Sen. David Smith, the former Ignatieff campaign chair–as his top advisers, the Dion camp had reached out mostly to the Gerard Kennedy or Martha Hall Findlay campaigns only and not to the Ignatieff and Rae campaigns.

"It's a third place candidate who won the leadership and was surprised when he won and he's having all the problems," said the Liberal. "The Liberal Party is broader than the caucus and when you're elected leader of the Liberal Party–let's look at the last couple of leaderships–with the exception of Pierre Trudeau who was a phenomenon, by himself, but you look at John Turner who succeeded Trudeau, you look at Jean Chrétien who succeeded Turner and you look at Paul Martin who succeeded Chrétien, all of them spent their time going to every fundraising dinner across the country that they were invited to by every MP. In Turner's case, he did that for 20 years, Jean Chrétien did that for 15 years and in Martin's case, he did that for 10. Stéphane Dion's never done any of that. He doesn't know the Liberal Party. People have not been calling him up and say 'Stéphane, you need to come to my constituency because you're going to be a draw for money.' Stéphane Dion has never been a draw for money in any part of the country. He doesn't know the people and the party."

The source said Mr. Dion has a steep learning curve ahead, pointing out that the turbulence he is experiencing is a consequence of his inexperience as a leader.

For example, the source cited how Mr. Dion handled the whole controversy over Jamie Carroll, the national director of the Liberal Party, who allegedly said in a closed-door meeting that if the party has to hire more Quebecers, it has to hire more Chinese.

"You don't say on a Friday that the national party director has your support and then on the weekend have your people go to him and try to convince him to resign. That's not the way of doing things. He should have either stood behind him and weathered the storm or fired him on the spot but not this 'I stand behind him and by the way, Herb [Metcalfe], go and see if you can get his resignation. It's not going to work.' "

Troubles began for Mr. Dion after the party lost the safe Liberal riding of Outremont, Que., last month.

Mr. Raymaker said the Outremont byelection loss "was the opening of these malcontents desperately craved to take aim at Dion. The little eruptions seen recently are predictable, but trivial in the grand scheme of things. ...Carroll is now reassigned. If that's what the leakers wanted, then I would now expect them to shut the hell up and get to work."

Meanwhile, the OLO announced the appointment of veteran Liberal Hill staffer Johanne Sénécal as principal secretary to Mr. Dion who has succeeded Marcel Massé who left recently because of health issues.

Since the byelections in Quebec on Sept. 17 up until Thursday last week, four nominated and potential federal Liberal Party candidates in Quebec announced that they will not be running in the next federal election as Liberal candidates.

The four potential or nominated candidates who announced that they would not run in the next federal election include: former astronaut Marc Garneau; Paul Leduc, former mayor or a Montreal suburb; Pierre-Luc Bellerose, Liberal candidate in the riding of Joliette; and Gilles Landry, Liberal candidate in the riding of Protneuf-Jacques-Cartier.

Another top Liberal told The Hill Times that federal Liberals especially in Quebec need to get their act together because the party is losing its relevance in the province.

The source said candidates may be losing interest in running in Quebec because they don't see any realistic possibilities for the party in the next election.

"Outremont, Westmount, and Mount Royal are the three safest seats in Quebec, and probably in Canada as far as the Libs were concerned. When you lose one of those and when you lose primarily for espousing a philosophy that the people aren't buying into, poor organization, poor candidate selection and so on, all of this comes down to the leader. In Montreal, you talk to people, whether they be French or English, the Liberal Party is almost at the point now where they're just ignored. They're not even worthy of being brought up in order just to piss on them. People are not even giving them the time of day," said the source.

The Liberal said the Grits are going "to take a beating" in Quebec in the next election.

Yet, according to a recent Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey, Liberals and the Conservatives were running neck and neck nationally with Tories having 33 per cent and Liberals with 31 per cent support, followed by the NDP with 16 per cent support. According to this poll, the Bloc Quebecois led the pack in Quebec with 31 per cent support followed by the Liberals at 23 per cent, the Tories at 22 per cent, and the NDP at 13 per cent.

Meanwhile, Sen. David Smith, who co-chaired three successful election campaigns under former prime minister Jean Chrétien, said he too does not believe any group of individuals is trying to undermine Mr. Dion's leadership.

"Not people that I know. Might there be the odd isolated incident where somebody isn't a team player? I can't rule that out. On balance, the Liberal Party is a family. The odd time that we've [engaged] in internal problems, we paid for that and people don't want to do that. Stéphane won the leadership fair and square. We support him 150 per cent and that's where Liberals across the country that I'm talking to that's basically where their heads are, that united we stand, divided we fall."

Sen. Smith also disagreed with the suggestion that Mr. Dion has not been reaching out to other campaigns since he won the leadership of the party.

"No, I don't agree with that. I know that when various people were put on the national campaign committee when it was announced in June, I know my views were canvassed. Some names were suggested from various camps and those names were included."

Liberal MP Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Gr√¢ce-Lachine, Que.) who supported Mr. Dion in the last Liberal leadership campaign, said she does not believe that the Ignatieff campaign–as some people suspect–are behind the anonymous attacks against the Liberal Party leader.

"That I can say confidently. I don't think Mr. Ignatieff has anything to do with these leaks to the media, at all. Michael Ignatieff is a really smart man. He's not somebody who's going to cut off his nose to spite his face. He would be the first one to know that that kind of thing doesn't do any good. It actually can harm the party."

Ms. Jennings said that some of the difficulties that the federal Liberals are facing in Quebec are because of the provincial Liberals because average Quebecers don't make a distinction between the provincial and federal Liberals. She added it would be a mistake to write Liberals off in Quebec.

–With files by Bea Vongdouangchanh

arana@hilltiems.com

The Hill Times


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