Longtime Liberal MP Denis Coderre has resigned as the party's Quebec lieutenant and defence critic, blaming unnamed "advisers from Toronto" for interfering with his home province's affairs.
Coderre said he no longer has the "moral authority" to act as leader Michael Ignatieff's right-hand man in Quebec, after being overruled in choosing the Liberal candidate for the Montreal riding of Outremont.
"I have a lot of respect for Michael, but I think that he will need to make some changes around him," Coderre told a news conference in his Montreal North riding of Bourassa.
Four Liberal organizers in Quebec close to Coderre have resigned from the party in support of its former Quebec lieutenant, confirmed Marc-André Blanchard, the co-chair of the party's election campaign committee in Quebec.
Those who have resigned include the Liberal party's chief organizer in Quebec, Pierre Lajeunesse; the president of the candidate approval committee, Éric Simard; fundraiser Jean Rizzuto; and a cousin of Coderre, Jean-François Coderre, who was co-ordinator of the Liberals' offices in Montreal.
Criticized for blocking Cauchon nomination
Coderre was heavily criticized by party members for trying to block the nomination of former cabinet minister Martin Cauchon, a popular Liberal and personal rival who is staging a political comeback after once representing Outremont for 11 years.
Ignatieff initially supported Coderre's call to nominate business executive Nathalie Le Prohon instead, as part of the Liberal strategy to increase the number of women in its Quebec caucus.
But late last week Ignatieff did an about-face, announcing the party would clear the way for Cauchon's nomination.
"Much more fundamental questions are raised by these events: Who should the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada listen to on decisions that strictly affect Quebec?" Coderre asked.
"Should he follow his Quebec lieutenant while working closely with a credible team? Or his Toronto advisers who know nothing about the social and political realities of Quebec?"
"I was there for Michael Ignatieff," he said. "Every time there was a situation, I took the heat for the party.
"Instead of playing innuendos and trying to piss in someone's ears and try to spin, I said OK. Let's have a press conference. I'm gonna call a spade a spade ..."
Coderre said he will continue to serve as member of Parliament.
Coderre won't be replaced: Ignatieff
Reacting to Coderre's announcement, Ignatieff said he regretted his friend's departure, commending Coderre for his work to renew the Liberal Party in Quebec by increasing membership, raising money, and recruiting new candidates.
For now, Ignatieff said, he would not replace Coderre, and would do without a Quebec lieutenant.
Ignatieff said the move would not hurt the party's preparedness for a potential election since he said the party is well on its way to a full slate in the province, with candidates confirmed in 68 of 75 ridings.
The Liberal leader scoffed at suggestions the party is being led by people in Toronto, recalling the recent recruitment of advisers with close ties to the government of Premier Jean Charest, including former provincial revenue minister Jean-Marc Fournier and Blanchard, a former Quebec Liberal Party president.
"I lead a cross-Canada political party —I'm proud of my team in Quebec," Ignatieff said. "They have the responsibility, with me, to renew the party, and that process is continuing.
"I think that what is important now is that we focus on results. And what I see in Quebec is that there is a real desire to hear what the Liberal Party has to say," Ignatieff said.
Ignatieff doesn't get 'loyalty,' says former Liberal minister
The Liberals lost their stronghold riding in a 2007 byelection won by former Quebec environment minister Thomas Mulcair, who is now deputy leader of the NDP.
The situation creates problems for Ignatieff, according to Jean Lapierre, a former Liberal cabinet minister and MP in Outremont.
"For a leader who's never been in the trenches, he doesn't know what loyalty is all about," said Lapierre, who now works as a political analyst in Montreal. "But he'll find out very soon, because when you go up, the people that you walk on ... you always meet them when you go down."
Lapierre said Ignatieff is hard-pressed to mend fences quickly in case of a fall election.
The Liberal leader is scheduled to address the Quebec wing of his party on Sunday, in Quebec City.