Monday, September 28, 2009

Coderre quits. Don't let the door, etc.

I had family visiting from BC last week so I’ve been on a blogging hiatus, and now that I’m back one of the posts I’d planned to write was one congratulating Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff for listening to both the grassroots and senior members of his party about the Outrement situation and making the right call by allowing Martin Cauchon to contest an open nomination in the riding and Nathalie Le Prohon to do the same in Jeanne-Le Ber. Now, things have developed further this morning with Coderre announcing his resignation as defence critic and Quebec lieutenant:

"It is a tough decision, a very emotional one that I have to make today," Coderre told a Montreal news conference on Monday. "But I took four days on my own...and I thought that I don't have any more the moral authority to remain as the Quebec lieutenant."
First, to the earlier doings. As I wrote earlier, the initial decision to not allow Cauchon to seek an open nomination in Outremont was a mistake. He’s exactly the kind of experienced, progressive candidate we need on the team and allowing him to seek the nomination in his old riding should have been a no-brainer. Ignatieff erred initially in backing Coderre’s decision to block Cauchon, particularly given that Coderre has seemed more interested in preparing for his own future leadership campaign and blocking potential rivals then in doing his job, organizing Quebec for Ignatieff and the Liberal Party for the next election.

After a major outcry from the grassroots, from the blogsphere, from senior Liberals and even Members of Parliament, Ignatieff did exactly the right thing in re-visiting the situation, and allowing Cauchon and Le Prohon to contest open nominations. It was a victory for the party as a whole, and an example of real leadership by Ignatieff: that he’s willing to listen to criticism and reverse an incorrect decision when a compelling argument is made. I was a little surprised, frankly, but very pleasantly so.

Now, as for Coderre’s resignation today, frankly, it was inevitable and necessary. He really had little choice. Ignatieff reversed his call on Outremont and Cauchon. And while Ignatieff made the right call in doing so, it did cut Coderre’s legs out from under him, and would have left him largely impotent in the Quebec organizer role, unable to speak with the weight of the leader. He had to resign.

And let me say that I, for one (of many, many Liberals), couldn’t be happier. We’re going to read many pundits opining how Coderre’s departure is a bad thing for the Liberals, that it will mean trouble organizing in Quebec, that it speaks ill of Ignatieff’s leadership, and so on. That’s all bollocks, and amusing given the low opinion all the critics actually hold of Coderre.

Coderre was an embarrassment as defence critic, unloved and running his own agenda as Quebec lieutenant, and his departure from both positions will be a positive for the party. Instead of someone who has been dividing Quebec Liberals, trying to muscle aside rivals, trying to push out incumbents, we can have someone working to build a more open and inclusive party in the province, someone who will work to build the organization and find the best candidates, period.

This is all very inside baseball. Canadians don’t care who the Liberal Party’s Quebec lieutenant is. The pundits will bray, but it’s just white noise and they’ll move on soon enough. Internally, however, a divisive force has been removed from the equation and that will result in a stronger Quebec organization, better able to fight the next election.

In the long game, this is a good day for the Liberal Party. And I know very few Liberals who would disagree.

Au revoir, Denis. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

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Andrew P. said...

I think you mean "the initial decision to not allow Cauchon to seek an open nomination in Outremont was a mistake

Jeff said...

I did indeed, Andrew. Thanks.

ChrisInKW said...

Agree 100%. Chalk up a victory for the grassroots and democracy over ego-centrism.

Ted Betts said...

I think the part about this story that gets little focus is how Ignatieff blew past personal loyalty for the good of the party.

It was naturaly and not horribly wrong to trust Coderre in re-building the party in Quebec. Coderre, for all his many many faults, has actually been doing an admirable job there and, to be fair, I don't think it was all and certainly not just for his leadership ambitions. And Cauchon had been offered the chance to run in Outremont and turned it down. Everyone likes Cauchon and so many don't like Coderre, that it is easy to forgive or ignore Cauchon's role in this mini-crisis.

Be that as it may, was is great to see is a big change in approach. For 25 years, you won or lost within the party based on who you supported in the last leadership campaign. You were a Chretienite or a Martini. If you supported Martin, you were automatically shut out of cabinet and had a difficult time with the PMO even for legitimate projects for your riding. With Martin, it was just as bad.

And here we have a leader who overruled one of the key players in his own leadership in favour of one of the key supporters of another leadership contender. This would never have happened in the Liberal Party in the last 25 years or so.

The funny but unsurprising thing is his detractors and media, the same ones who were spinning that he wasn't showing good leadership by finding a woman candidate after Cauchon turned him down, are now saying his is showing a lack of leadership because he put the party over personal loyalty to him.

No one said renewal was going to be easy and there weren't going to be casualties. But if we recognize that big shift in leadership - one of mending the fences, working together for the good of the whole instead of the next leadership race - then we can benefit from this and become stronger rather than spin back into the internecine warfare.

Iggy has many times said that re-building the party and getting unity was central to renewal. They say the proof of the puddings in the eating. We've just seen a monumental and demonstrable example of Iggy's pudding.

Gerry said...

Denis Coderre may be a good networker and organizer, but he put his personal ambitions ahead of his duty to the leader as his Quebec Lieutenant. If he had been doing his job, he would not have foisted a lose lose situation on his leader and party.

Ted Betts said...

Look at that. I guess I'm not the only one noticing what a refreshing change of leadership it is to put party loyalty ahead of personal loyalty. That is a sign of confidence and leadership that we are not accustomed to in the Liberal Party.

Scott in Montreal said...

I am not an insider but this post rings true to me. Coderre certainly has not shone as Defence critic, and the fact he chose today - and so publicly - to resign from the shadow cabinet, proves who he puts first when balancing what's good for the LPC and what's good for Denis Coderre.

Ted Betts said...

OK, here's someone else who sees this the way I do: not as a sign of weakness, but leadership.

And from Radwanski, someone who tends to be far more critical of Ignatieff than praising (if he ever praised Ignatieff at all:

"You can blame the Liberal Leader for putting himself in this situation - first by placing his lot with someone who represents the very worst of old-school Quebec politics, and then by initially standing by him when he was clearly putting his own interests ahead of his party's. But it's a sign of just how facile our political culture has become that we interpret recognizing your mistakes, and correcting them, as a sign of weakness.

It's also indicative of short memories. The last Liberal Leader to show undue loyalty, Paul Martin, paid a significant price for it. By insisting on dancing with the ones that brung him, he failed to make the tough personnel decisions expected of someone at his level. The people who are good at winning leaderships, or at least muscling competitors out of the way, are not necessarily the same people you need once you're in power or close to it."

In Conrad Black's brilliant biography of FDR, he makes the same point. FDR appointed great men to important positions, on his campaigns, in his cabinet, but was quick to get rid of them once they had served his purpose or showed any sign of slowing him down. He always kept his eye on the ball and what he was trying to accomplish. He had no time for any other ego or ambition around him.

CanadianSense said...

The problem with the airing dirty laundry regarding QC-riding is focus on Harper Report Card is undermined.

Is the entire party behind the removal of Harper above their own future 'cabinet seat'.

Is the party united? Hopefully this will be off the MSM by early next week.

The appointment of Coderre or allowing him too much freedom in making decisions?

When Paul Martin resigned his position, left for his cross country travels his MP's continued to leak information pushed our JC early.

Does Coderre have the same plan? Will WK pin the leaks on him?

rabbit said...

There is no more effective generator of discontent than the nomination process.

On the one hand, local ridings are protective of their prerogative to determine their candidate, and rightly so. The riding association is the very definition of "grassroots". These people do a lot of work for the party, and they deserve a say.

On the other hand, the party leader wants to shape and engineer the slate of candidates to match his vision of the party as a whole. He is responsible for the gestalt.

All parties should be brutally honest and clear about the nomination process. Confusion is toxic.

Yvan St-Pierre said...

I don't have much to say about the specifics of this particular power game - shit happens (from whomever perspective this may apply).

What I'm a bit more worried about is how this can be a setback for the "Quebecois and Canadian in the order that you want" discourse, which needs to be credible in order to get the Bloc votes that can help us beat the Conservatives.

Not sure this will appear as a win of the grassroots over the brass here, as much as the anglo brass humiliating the franco brass once again. Apparently at least, some things never change in this country...

Jeff said...


I largely agree. I'd have preferred he have got the call right in the first place, but the fact he showed a willingness to listen to counter-argument and, when swayed, to revisit his decision is a promising sign of leadership.


Coderre is bigger in his mind than he is in reality. There's no cult of personality around this guy. I'm not worried.


I think there's a difference between senior Quebec organizers and Quebec grassroots. The riding members in Jeanne Le Bar and Outremont are going to get to vote for the candidate of their choice in an open nomination. That may not be what some senior organizer wanted, but it is what the members of those ridings wanted. I think that's a good thing.

Yvan St-Pierre said...


I'm not worrying so much about the perceptions of the grassroots as that of the voters. And for many of us, language does trump inner-party politics (as do most important things).

Now, I'm not saying there is much love lost here with Coderre stepping down either, but I think that the perception that he was just a thorn in the side of some real or imagined anglo establishment, and that this is why the whole mess happened, will have to be countered somehow. That story line comes just too close to home here to be left hanging, as if it all was for the best anyway.