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Liberal MP Denis Coderre walks past supporters to announce his resignation as Quebec lieutenant and defence critic during a news conference on Sept. 28, 2009, in Montreal.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Greg Lyle (former chief of staff for Manitoba premier Gary Filmon, and managing director of the Innovative Research Group): The question about a Quebec lieutenant is not just a Quebec question; it is a question about what it takes to build a great party. What makes a great party? Just three things: a capable leader with a strong team pursing a common vision.

When Michael Ignatieff reached out to Denis Coderre, he reached out to a strong local leader with the talent and the knowledge to do the same thing Ignatieff did - reach out to other strong talented leaders to build the strongest and best team he possibly could. But Coderre didn't make the right choice. In dealing with Martin Cauchon, Denis Coderre had a chance to reclaim for the Liberal Party a major Quebec talent. If you recognize that convincing Cauchon to run again is a good thing for your party, it seems obvious that the best place for him to run is in his old seat. But Coderre looked at Cauchon and was afraid he was too strong. Instead of looking at Cauchon and seeing a strong teammate to help his party gain, Coderre saw as strong opponent who might take away the little power Coderre enjoys today and, even more important, an opponent who might one day deny him the prize he really wants - the prime minister's chair.





Well Mr. Coderre, you can't be prime minister when you sit on the opposition side of house. If you can't look past your own ambition to the good of the party, then the party is well rid of you.

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Let's look at the big picture. Michael Ignatieff made a good decision when he decided to find a strong individual to act as his lieutenant in Quebec. No leader can be everywhere, no leader can know everything and no leader can do everything. The real risk to the Liberal Party is not that Ignatieff made a bad choice in placing his trust in Coderre, but that he will fail to risk putting his trust in others.

If you are willing to make choices, you will make bad choices on a regular basis. Dennis Coderre had the potential to be a good choice. It is Coderre's mistake that he failed to live up to his potential, not Ignatieff's mistake for giving him a chance to try.

Now it appears that Ignatieff is going to try and directly manage Quebec. That is a huge mistake - not because it is Quebec, but because it fails to recognize the need to build a team and delegate authority to the team members.

The right response right now is not for Ignatieff to manage, but for Ignatieff to lead. He needs to let his team, and the country, know what he expects of his team members. That he expects his lieutenants to try and recruit people that are not just as good as them, but people who are better. That they should not jealously guard the limited power they have today, but share it so they everyone can share even more in the future.

Right now in facing this small crisis in his party, Michael Ignatieff is demonstrating how he will respond to a real crisis in government. Will he be a micro-manager or a leader? We won't have to wait long to see.

Scott Reid (former communications director for Paul Martin, and principal with the speechwriting company Feschuk-Reid): Do federal parties need Quebec lieutenants? That's for each of the parties to decide for themselves. But the Liberal Party should most definitely maintain the tradition. For the simple reason that it makes practical sense and it will help the party succeed electorally.

In fact, as senior Liberals including Senator Dennis Dawson and former national campaign chair David Herle have argued persuasively over the past few days, we should go further and restore the position's traditional structure. That means having not one, but two posts: a Quebec lieutenant and a chief organizer.

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But let's begin by confronting the arguments of those who say the role is an anachronism.

In large measure, this line of thought cringes that the post heralds back to a far flung era when grease and graft made "political machines" run. It is suggested, therefore, that the position is a political fossil best left unpreserved. The other strain of discussion insists that because no such position exists for Ontario, New Brunswick, British Columbia or elsewhere, why should it be retained for Quebec? After all, we're well past the French-English political compact that was navigated by the likes of Ernest Lapointe and Jean Marchand.

These arguments seem sensible on their face. But when carefully scrutinized from the perspective of practical politics, they reveal themselves to be simply incorrect.

Bluntly stated: Quebec is different. Obviously the political culture of every province is unique. But guess what? It's more unique in Quebec. And sensitivity to that fact is impossibly important when it comes to fashioning the kind of voting coalition upon which victories are built. Like it or not, Quebec's electoral significance is - and always has been - downright determinative. Before the Bloc, those that won Quebec won the country. After the Bloc, it has defined the Liberal Party's current limitations, the Conservative Party's future ambitions and the NDP's wildest of hopes (with all due respect to Thomas Mulcair who is, without question, a remarkably able politician).





So we can all tut-tut that the post of Quebec lieutenant is a vestige of days gone by. And we can pretend that people in the leader's office (or, as the case may be, the prime minister's office) who are well-schooled in the art of politics can just as easily manage Quebec matters from the corner of Metcalfe and Wellington. Or we can bow to the plain fact that Quebec receives unique attention, has a unique impact on election outcomes and therefore demands the benefit of a unique structure. It's a matter of pragmatism.

Returning to the question of what should happen now, the answer is not to eliminate one post but rather to create two. Before the Chrétien years, the Quebec lieutenant was the authoritative voice on political strategy, messaging and relations with the government in Quebec City. Moreover, the post was supported by the additional position of chief organizer. That role was empowered to keep party workers on track, sort out nomination scrapes with discretion (imagine that) and ensure the tools and the team were in place to deliver votes on Election Day. One role is strategic; one is operational. Dividing the responsibility between two individuals had the added benefit of keeping power from becoming too concentrated - and, by extension, diminishing the threat of abuse. It was a mistake to ever conflate the two roles and they should now be disentangled.

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The Liberal Party needs a senior counsellor on Quebec matters to help guide its path to renewal and relevance in the province. It also needs a replacement for Denis Coderre - someone who will work with similar industry to ensure the party's mason-works are in full repair and ready to support the next campaign. The truly encouraging news is that with experienced-yet-still-federally-fresh supporters like Marc-André Blanchard and Jean-Marc Fournier plus a host of good caucus members and other established Quebec advisers, Ignatieff has outstanding candidates available to him.

One final argument against the position requires brief consideration. Some insist that a Quebec lieutenant is actually un-democratic. That it smacks of backroom machinations and handshakes stained with cigar ash. Balls to all that. Nowhere is it written that democracy relies on disorganization. The best democratic exercise is one that is undertaken with the benefit of capability, commitment and discipline. Internal leadership is a vital aspect of that effort.

It is tempting to dismiss the idea that a Quebec lieutenant and chief organizer are needed in this day and age. But for the Liberal Party, at least, they are. It's that simple. Eliminating the role(s) would be an overreaction, a misreading of history and a missed opportunity to consolidate prospective Liberal gains in the province.

Leslie Campbell (former chief of staff for Audrey McLaughlin, and senior associate at the National Democratic Institute): There are few conventions in Canadian politics more entrenched than the idea of a Quebec brain trust guiding the actions of a federal party in that province. No Canadian studies course is complete without an examination of the "three wise men" who emerged to change the face of Quebec and Canadian politics in the 1960s - Pierre Trudeau, Jean Marchand and Gérard Pelletier - and most students of Canadian politics are familiar with the less celebrated but still formidable Marc Lalonde and André Ouellet.

The Mulroney government experience is slightly less ballyhooed but no less dramatic, as Lucienne Bouchard's famous Meech Lake flame-out illustrates. A steadier Jean Charest performed the role admirably if with less panache than his volatile predecessor.

These Quebeckers, armed with intellectual prowess, or, when lacking oral persuasiveness, oodles of patronage, translated Quebec to Canada and Canada to Quebec. Representing a federal option, there is a storied history of Quebeckers, aligned with national parties, battling the separatist option - think Pierre Trudeau versus Rene Levesque or Jean Chrétien and Stéphane Dion versus the aforementioned Bouchard.

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Unfortunately, the waning days of the Chrétien/Martin government saw the noble idea of Quebec lieutenant degenerate into unseemly greed over federal sponsorship money, patronage appointments for Quebec operatives that may have otherwise belonged in jail and petty turf squabbles among shady political operators.

To answer the question directly, federal parties do need Quebec lieutenants but the Liberal Party should probably get its own house in order before appointing another barely disguised leadership pretender who will inevitably become the tail that wags the dog.

As with most other Liberal ailments these days, the Denis Coderre saga points to a party that has not collectively processed its successive defeats at the polls and therefore, instead of a genuine process of intellectual renewal and introspection, impatiently chafes until it can regain its "rightful" place in power.

As long as a potential Quebec lieutenant believes himself to be on the cusp of controlling federal contacts and patronage appointments in his province, the position will appeal to the venal and not the intellectual.

The NDP, which is now and for the foreseeable future free of the expectations of power, has a different set of imperatives.





New Democrats have been working to break through in Quebec since the early 1960s. The party got lucky in a 1989 by-election in the riding of Chambly, but scored a true breakthrough more recently in the riding of Outremont, which was not only won in a by-election, but then again in a general election.

Outremont MP Thomas Mulclair was made deputy leader of the party and finance critic - two high-profile national roles that differ slightly from the traditional idea of Quebec lieutenant but the effect is the same. Mulclair is the interpreter of Quebec to the federal NDP, although leader Jack Layton, a son of that province, presumably holds his own views.

Why rely on a surrogate and deputy leader rather than one's own counsel as Michael Ignatieff seems wont to do? Several reasons:

1. There is a distinct media culture in Quebec centred on television, radio and print written out of Montreal, not Ottawa bureaus.

2. All parties have an opponent - the Bloc Québécois - that has the luxury of focusing entirely on one province and on the Montreal-centred media.

3. Quebeckers examine the role their elected MPs play in federal parties to assess how seriously those parties take the province - perhaps unfair but a real factor, nonetheless.

4. There is considerable evidence that potential party supporters in Quebec run as candidates, agree to take out party cards and agree to vote for federal parties only when there are credible Quebec leaders who hold respected places in their parties.

5. It is too easy to miss Quebec nuance when trying to manage day-to-day issues, in translation, from Toronto and Ottawa.

Quebec campaigns fundamentally need to be run out of Montreal; Quebeckers listen to other Quebeckers first; and when Quebeckers choose to give your party a chance, the party needs to show reciprocal respect by giving a respected role to Quebeckers.

Maybe the nomenclature should be changed as the term lieutenant has little meaning for the voting public, but the idea of a Quebec deputy isn't dead yet.

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