Michael Ignatieff will name a new Quebec lieutenant in coming days after a closer reading of his party's constitution triggered a change of heart.
The Liberal Party requires a "leader's representative" in Quebec, Mr. Ignatieff said, a detail he must have overlooked last week when he said he would not rush to replace his former lieutenant, Denis Coderre.
Mr. Ignatieff said yesterday he will name a lieutenant and an "organizer in chief" in the province.
By naming both positions himself, Mr. Ignatieff will substantially reduce the lieutenant's power to name personal allies to key positions.
The move caught several key Liberals off guard. Some of them were defending Mr. Ignatieff's initial decision to do away with the high-profile post that serves as the leader's key Quebec muscle.
Former cabinet minister Martin Cauchon, whose desire to run in Outremont led to Mr. Coderre's resignation from the job, said an all-powerful lieutenant is probably not needed.
"Michael decided not to have one, that will probably give more room to other caucus members," Mr. Cauchon said just before Mr. Ignatieff announced his reversal. Mr. Ignatieff said he will name his Quebec representative "in the coming days" from among his 14 MPs. That takes Mr. Cauchon out of the running, and leaves Mr. Ignatieff with a very limited field of candidates.
Enthusiastic Liberals gathered for a Quebec-wing convention yesterday where Mr. Ignatieff tried to move on from the Coderre controversy while making it clear who is boss. "The Quebec team, that's you. The leader, that's me," Mr. Ignatieff said in a thinly veiled reference to Mr. Coderre. Some 800 partisans applauded his stern message.
"Loyalty is not to personalities. It's to the institutions, and the traditions that institution incarnates."
Mr. Coderre quit as lieutenant a week ago, bitterly complaining that the Quebec wing was being run by Mr. Ignatieff's Toronto advisers.
A small wave of sympathy for Mr. Coderre in Quebec turned around when it emerged many Quebec Liberals were fed up with him running roughshod over the party.
Mr. Coderre skipped yesterday's convention. A reporter asked Mr. Ignatieff if his presence might have earned him forgiveness. "What Mr. Coderre does is his business. He took actions earlier in the week which have consequences. He's living the consequences," he said.
Mr. Coderre earned scorn from some Liberals when he appeared for a taping of a popular Quebec talk show - Tout le monde en parle - rather than sit in the House of Commons for a key vote on Thursday.
In the interview, which was aired to more than a million viewers last night, Mr. Coderre was unrepentant. He didn't repeat the Toronto-based slag of his leader, but he didn't apologize, either.
Host Guy A. Lepage accused Mr. Coderre of hitting Mr. Ignatieff in the head with a baseball bat. "I did what I thought was right. Do you want people who have principles?" Mr. Coderre said. "I said what I thought. I wanted to be honest with myself and with others."
Mr. Coderre explained his absence from yesterday's convention, saying he didn't want the important meeting to be all about him. Co-host and comedian Dany Turcotte called him a "Coderriste." He bristled.
Mr. Cauchon, who went over Mr. Coderre's head so he could seek the nomination in his chosen Montreal riding, tried to bury the hatchet yesterday. He declined to explain what happened, saying Mr. Coderre did a good job getting Quebec organized. "We've turned the page, he and I will keep working together."
LIBERAL LIEUTENANT / POTENTIAL CANDIDATES
The list of potential candidates to be the new Quebec Liberal lieutenant is not long, and there's nary a pit bull among them.
Michael Ignatieff made it clear his new Quebec right-hand man will come from among his 14 MPs in the province. Scratch former lieutenant Denis Coderre to start.
Some MPs are too green (Justin Trudeau) or too laden with baggage (Stéphane Dion and his two former lieutenants) to likely be considered. Many more would just be unwilling. During his reign, Mr. Dion had a hard time finding someone to take on the backbreaking, thankless task.
It's also unlikely Mr. Ignatieff would select an MP too closely identified to anglophone Montreal, especially after Mr. Coderre's bitter parting words blaming Mr. Ignatieff's Toronto advisers for meddling. In the hallway outside the Quebec wing's convention yesterday, Marc Garneau and Pablo Rodriguez were the first names to surface as likely candidates.
Mr. Garneau has been a staunch defender of Mr. Ignatieff during the Coderre controversy. The former astronaut's fame may be an asset attracting star candidates.
Elected in 2008, Mr. Garneau does not have a long political résumé, but that may be less of a hindrance if the lieutenant becomes a figurehead. Some Liberals resent Mr. Garneau for losing a Liberal-held riding in 2006 and refusing to run again until he was nominated in an even safer riding.
His colourless approach would be a decided departure from Mr. Coderre's flamboyant style.
Mr. Rodriguez, another MP who is close to Mr. Ignatieff, has a longer history in the party. Like Mr. Garneau, he's not considered a partisan attack dog on the level of Mr. Coderre, but he too was a prominent defender of his leader last week. Mr. Rodriguez was first elected in 2004 and was president of the Quebec wing. He is considered a strong organizer, although he's unlikely to log the miles and hours Mr. Coderre did during his reign.