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Former Liberal leader Stephane Dion and his wife Janine Krieber wave as they board the plane at the airport in Hamilton, Ont., on Wednesday., Sept.10, 2008.
Former Liberal leader Stephane Dion and his wife Janine Krieber wave as they board the plane at the airport in Hamilton, Ont., on Wednesday., Sept.10, 2008.

Family spat spells more PR misery for Liberals Add to ...

Janine Krieber, the wife of former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, is known for being blunt and outspoken, but her online outburst over the weekend about how the party is heading for the "trashcan of history" left the Liberals and Leader Michael Ignatieff dealing with yet another self-inflicted wound.

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They had to acknowledge Ms. Krieber's bitterness over the party's casting aside of her husband last December after two years as its leader, yet minimize the impact of her outburst at a time when Mr. Ignatieff is trying to put recent missteps behind him.

The party is stagnating in the polls and struggling to define itself in a way that will appeal to middle-class voters. But Ms. Kreiber's posting on her Facebook page, which was removed as soon as news of it began circulating on Saturday, offered a dark view of the future.

She said the Liberal Party is falling apart and will not recover, and suggested Mr. Ignatieff is little more than a cocktail party charmer.

"I will not give my voice to a party that will end up in the trashcan of history," she wrote in a passage that included shots at a "Toronto elite" behind Mr. Ignatieff's rise.

Senior Liberals refused to comment yesterday. Others sounded as if they were coping with a difficult distant relative who chose to vent at an awkward time, such as Christmas dinner.

Strategist Scott Reid said Ms. Krieber's comments reflect "the personal frustration of an individual who is unhappy with how history has unfolded. You try to be sympathetic, but I don't think a lot of Liberals share her analysis."

On the CTV program Question Period, Dan Brock, a former senior adviser to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the sentiments she expressed are not widely held in the party.

But he added that some Liberals are frustrated and her criticisms were "not to be dismissed."

Paul Zed, a former Liberal MP and chief of staff to Mr. Ignatieff, said he didn't think much of Ms. Krieber's take on the party. "She's got an opinion. She's just expressing it. She is not a public person."

The comments were the topic of e-mails and conversations among Liberals on the weekend, Mr. Reid said.

"To a person, every liberal who I have spoken with views it as an expression of personal frustration rather than some broader commentary on the party."

The Canadian Press reported that Mr. Dion, still a dedicated MP from Montreal, was not involved in producing the note and that people in his camp convinced Ms. Krieber to delete it on Saturday.

Ms. Krieber's is an expert in terrorism who has taught at the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean, Que., has been described as someone who clings to her opinions and is tough to persuade.

In her note, she said the Liberals would pay for refusing to endorse the agreement almost a year ago between Mr. Dion and New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton to form a coalition to oust the Conservatives from power. The Bloc Québécois agreed to support the coalition on confidence votes.

"By refusing the historic coalition that would have placed it at the helm of the left, it will be punished by history.''

She also criticized the party for not giving her husband a chance to rebuild after the last election.

"If the Toronto elites had been more in tune, humble and realist, Stéphane would have been willing to take all the time and absorb all the hits needed to rebuild the party. But they couldn't swallow the 26 per cent, and now we are at 23 per cent."

The controversy comes as the Liberals are hoping that a new team in Mr. Ignatieff's office will help them get some traction with voters.

***

LIBERAL TROUBLES

It's lonely at the top. It has also been strewn with pitfalls for Michael Ignatieff, who assumed the Liberal leadership last December before being acclaimed at a convention in May. Recent stumbles:

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs? Remember when employment insurance was a sexy, potential election-spinning issue? Mr. Ignatieff made government action a key condition of his party's support in a June vote. The populism was stale by September, when the panel failed to agree and the Liberals announced their intentions to defeat the government on the issue.

Confidence Game A long-planned confidence vote was expected to present a clash of economic views on Oct. 1. Then the Harper government's employment insurance measures were cited by the NDP as its reason for voting with the government on a motion that Mr. Ignatieff spoke of as being about climate change policy. After gunning for weeks to defeat the government, a slide in the polls had turned the moment sour.

The Bad Lieutenant Mr. Ignatieff insisted that replacing former Liberal MP Martin Cauchon with political rookie Nathalie Le Prohon was what the party needed to win back its former Outremont, Que., stronghold. Then it wasn't any more, and Mr. Ignatieff buckled under internal pressure to let Mr. Cauchon keep his candidacy. The family feud got uglier when Denis Coderre, Mr. Ignatieff's man in Quebec, announced his resignation shortly afterwards.

Anna Mehler Paperny

 

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