"Denis Coderre: The No. 1 Public Personality": This is how Télé-Québec, the province-owned TV channel, advertised a feature story on the former Quebec lieutenant of the federal Liberal Party. It says a great deal about the current lack of high-profile political leaders in Quebec - a province that has produced so many great politicians - that a public broadcaster not usually prone to hyperbole decided to describe Mr. Coderre as a political giant.
At best, throughout his 13-year stint as MP for the Montreal riding of Bourassa, Mr. Coderre was never seen as anything more than a minor populist figure, albeit an energetic and efficient political operator whose tireless work at the grassroots level made him a precious asset for the Liberals. But Mr. Coderre had high ambitions: He dreamed of running in a leadership race.
His hopes were shattered, however, when Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff weighed in against him for trying to prevent Martin Cauchon - Mr. Coderre's rival and a leadership hopeful, too - from running in the safe Outremont riding. Piqued, Mr. Coderre resigned from his post as Quebec lieutenant and was replaced by former astronaut and Westmount-Ville-Marie MP Marc Garneau, a man with gentlemanly manners but little knowledge of grassroots politics.
At 47, Mr. Coderre hasn't renounced climbing into the higher echelons of politics. Last week, in a speech to his constituents, he said that, while he intends to run again in the next federal election, he's thinking about the leadership of the Quebec Liberal Party or the Montreal mayor's job. The first idea was instantly knocked down by provincial Liberals, who pointed out that the QLP leader's post is already occupied, by a sitting premier to boot.
The idea that Mr. Coderre could eventually become mayor of Montreal, though, is not totally far-fetched. Under the meek and ineffectual leadership of Gérald Tremblay, the city is in such dire straits that practically anyone with a backbone and the will to get things done might be a welcome change.
The future of the federal Liberal Party in Quebec, meanwhile, is not promising. According to a recent CROP survey, the Conservatives have regained ground. The rate of dissatisfaction with the Harper government has gone down to 50 per cent, from 65 per cent a year and a half ago. And even though the Liberals' share of the popular vote is equal to that of the Conservatives, at 23 per cent, this is a deceptive figure since the Liberal support is concentrated, and thus "lost" in the anglophone ridings of the metropolitan area. In any case, the Bloc Québécois has such a tight grip on the province, especially in the vote-rich francophone areas outside Montreal, that all the Liberals or the Conservatives can hope for is to become the "first" minor party in Quebec.
Mr. Ignatieff made a wise move when he said very clearly that he would never envision the possibility of a coalition with the NDP (a coalition that would inevitably need the support of the Bloc). While popular in Quebec, the prospect of a coalition with "socialists" and "separatists" is anathema in the rest of Canada, and the Conservatives have already begun to exploit this theme with gusto. It would have been self-defeating for the Liberals to go on flirting with such an idea: It wouldn't change their poor standing in Quebec, and it would alienate the rest of Canada.