Just 14 of 75 seats in Quebec: The search for answers and the finger-pointing has begun inside Liberal Party ranks. Was it a one-off, attributable to an unpopular leader and a convoluted carbon tax scheme? Could more have been done to win battleground ridings like Outremont or Jeanne-Le Ber? Was this just an accident or was it…murder?
With the party in such a delicate state, no Liberal thus far has gone on the record to say that some, essentially, threw in the towel. The worst kept secret within the party is that the 2006 leadership race never really ended and the Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff camps – although publicly supportive of outgoing leader Stéphane Dion – have been eyeing the 2009 contest before, during and after this month’s federal election. The most they are willing to admit is that more of an effort could have been made, swing ridings could have swung in their favour and more party stalwarts have to be pushed aside in favour of new blood.
A major figure in the party’s old-guard was not-so-subtly asked to step aside earlier this week. Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette, Dion’s Quebec Lieutenant, was on the losing end of a 16-12 vote by the party’s Quebec executive, who recommended that Dion suspend the duties of Quebec lieutenant and operate with an observer working with the executive. If Dion is in agreement, they will go without a Lieutenant until a new party leader is chosen. Earlier the same day, in a move unrelated to the executive’s vote, Hervieux-Payette was replaced as opposition leader in the Senate by James Cowan of Nova Scotia.
The motion to remove Hervieux-Payette was introduced by Quebec wing president Robert Fragasso and seconded by Mark Bruneau, the head of the finance committee.
She lost the confidence of the party’s executive “because of the dismal result of the campaign; the poor organization, the last-minute nominations,” explained Bruneau, who himself lost the party’s nomination in Jeanne-Le Ber to Christian Feuillette, who went on to lose to the Bloc Québécois candidate on Oct. 14. “There were plenty of high-calibre candidates, myself among them, like Liza Frulla who she dismissed, double-crossed and pushed away.”
Bruneau was heavily favoured to win the nomination until, he claims, his opponents called up the new party members his team recruited and told them they weren’t permitted to vote. He ended up losing by nine votes. One of his campaign staffers, who asked not to be identified, said Dion unwisely opted for an open vote instead of the party itself choosing who would best represent them – and who could pull off a win.
“Stéphane Dion voulait mettre ses valeurs démocratiques au premier plan,” the staffer told The Métropolitain. “Une course à l'investiture était l'option la plus juste à ses yeux, malgré la popularité et les appuis de taille de Mark Bruneau.”
“She called me a faggot,” he said. “I chose to be a Liberal because it is a tolerant party and that is unacceptable.”
Bruneau said he has numerous sources who would “testify to that fact.” Hervieux-Payette’s office did not return The Métropolitain’s phone calls as of press time.
Although he questions Hervieux-Payette’s competence as an organizer, when asked if Rae and Ignatieff supporters could have tried a bit harder to help Dion win the election, all he would say is that he is “not going to go there.”
“Did everyone show up for work? No. Did everyone make an effort? No,” said an organizer for the losing candidate in Outremont, Sébastien Dhavernas. The organizer added that the Outremont team, among others, suffered from financial problems, only having roughly half of the $45,000 needed to run a decent campaign. Dhavernas himself admits that it could have just as easily gone their way.
“The party sent me the resources they had at their disposal once they saw I had a chance,” Dhavernas said on election night as he watched the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair beat him by only 2,000 votes. “But it’s certain that this was a winnable riding.”
“Nobody goes into a campaign to lose,” Bruneau said. “Dion could have been Prime Minister had he communicated better, had the Green Shift been better received and had there been a Quebec Lieutenant who wasn’t incompetent and negligent. I want to put an end to the museum that is the Liberal Party (Quebec) that Céline Hervieux-Payette was curator of.”