When Paul Martin left cabinet in June of 2002, it was the final sign of a Liberal Party deeply divided. Whether you were a "Chrétienite", a "Martinite" or a "Why-can't-we-all-just-get-along-ite", this division, over time, became a cancer for the party and unless you were a direct combatant for one side, made the party not too fun a place to be.
Today's announcement by Denis Coderre that he is resigning as Quebec lieutenant and defence critic is lots of things, but it is certainly not a sign of the return of the era of different camps and mass division within the Liberal Party. If anything, it is the opposite.
First off, the Liberal Party is in opposition. Henry Kissinger said "university politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." Well guess what, internal regional Liberal politics right now are a small step above university politics. Arguably.
But more to the point, and not to use my normal subtlety, Liberals are sick and tired of this crap. And by Liberals I mean those in downtown Toronto just as much as those in rural Saguenay.
There isn't a single serious Liberal in the country right now who thinks what we need is another leadership battle.
There isn't a single serious Liberal in the country right now who is organizing for the next leadership battle (note the word serious before disagreeing with my assessment).
This doesn't mean that Coderre didn't do some very good work as Quebec lieutenant. By all accounts, many of the candidates he recruited are great men and women who will make excellent MPs. That being said, today's resignation opens the opportunity for real renewal of the Liberal party in Quebec.
While some Liberals may grumble about certain things that Michael Ignatieff has done or has not done since January, that should not in any way be confused with a return to the past by the Liberals. The party has one leader and every serious Liberal in the country is committed to making him the next prime minister of Canada.
I have a funny feeling based on my read of the Liberal Party that anyone who tries to go in a different direction will find themselves very lonely; not just for today but for years to come.
That doesn't mean the Liberal Party is in perfect shape - far from it.
The party has an unbelievable amount of work to do to rebuild its intellectual and organisational muscle. Nowhere is that more true than in Quebec. Hopefully today is a first step towards a real renewal of the party in the province.
In terms of next steps, as I wrote last week, I don't think there should be a Quebec lieutenant in the traditional sense of the word. The leader should, in my very humble opinion, appoint a large number of his Quebec caucus and grass-root Quebec Liberals to take on pieces of Coderre's responsibilities while making clear that responsibility for Liberal activities in Quebec - as with every province and territory - starts and stops with him, the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
UPDATE Shicks and giggles by me in Paul Wells's comment section responding to an article from today's La Presse that Ignatieff has had former Quebec education minister Jean-Marc Fournier working in the OLO as his "chief advisor" for the last two weeks (ie - since the Outremont mess broke out publicly):
"L'ancien ministre de l'Éducation du Québec occupe depuis environ deux semaines le poste de conseiller principal du chef libéral fédéral, Michael Ignatieff."
Sorry, my French is a bit rusty; this translates roughly to "the downtown Toronto native who wears colourful shirts and pointy shoes joined the rest of the King West hipsters to advise Ignatieff on how to screw-over grassroot Quebec Liberals as represented by the Quebec lieutenant", right?