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A 2002 file photo of ousted Liberal candidate Andre Forbes. (Robert Skinner/The Canadian Press/Robert Skinner/The Canadian Press)
A 2002 file photo of ousted Liberal candidate Andre Forbes. (Robert Skinner/The Canadian Press/Robert Skinner/The Canadian Press)

Adam Radwanski

White-rights candidate a sign of deeper Liberal woes in Quebec Add to ...

It was no great secret heading into this spring's election campaign that the federal Liberals' Quebec organization is in dire shape.

Still, it required a special kind of ineptitude to achieve the André Forbes controversy, which has to be one of the more baffling candidate meltdowns in memory.

That the Liberals had to axe a candidate , in a riding they had no hope of winning regardless, is in itself not huge news. Each of the major parties, save for the Bloc Québécois, lost at least one flag-bearer in the 2008 federal campaign. Such is life in the information age, when no amount of vetting seems to be enough.

But it's one thing to nominate someone who subsequently embarrasses himself on Facebook, or whose past indiscretions suddenly turn up online. It's quite another to nominate a guy who had been identified in mainstream media reports as the founder of a "white rights" group, which is what the Liberals somehow managed.

If not a simple Google search, then a scan of a media database should have turned up the 2004 article in the magazine L'Actualité, in which Mr. Forbes - described as "president of the Association for Rights of Whites of Sept-Iles" - referred to aboriginals as "featherheads." And if that somehow slipped under the radar, then noticing a pair of 2002 reports in the tabloid newspaper Le Soleil - in which he accuses aboriginals of being lazy and getting preferential treatment, while drawing an odd comparison to Israel - would have sufficed.

At the very least, the Liberals might have found a little cause for concern last November. At that point, Mr. Forbes was described on CBC's The National as representing "an association he says is for the protection of white people." By then, it bears noting, he had already been the party's candidate for more than a year.

But then, it's debatable how many Liberals even would have known who was running for them in Manicouagan - a riding where, like most everywhere else in Quebec outside Montreal, they're not even remotely competitive.

And therein lies the bigger story.

The candidate controversies that really sting are the ones that speak to a broader problem. For the Reform Party, and later the Canadian Alliance, it was perceived difficulty in weeding out the extremists in their midst. For the Liberals, it's more an issue of competence, in a province where their party has been a shell of its former self ever since the sponsorship scandal.

Manicouagan has been outside the Liberals' grasp since 1984, when Brian Mulroney won there. But during the Chrétien era, they were at least moderately competitive, running second to the Bloc Québécois and coming within 1,600 votes in 1997. Now, as in much of Quebec, they're a distant third behind the Bloc and the Conservatives, with the possibility of winding up behind the New Democrats as well.

In Montreal, the Liberals are still a force. But in the rest of Quebec, their brand is arguably in even worse shape than it is in Alberta. And that obviously has a chicken-and-egg relationship with the calibre of people they have on the ground.

It was fitting, if not exactly coincidental, that the NDP flagged Mr. Forbes's foibles on the same day that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff was touring small-town Quebec. Mr. Ignatieff is evidently aware of the need to rebuild in Quebec if the Liberals are to stand much chance of winning a government again. But he's going to need a lot more help from his party if he's to make any headway at all.

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