Talking Points

Tories pour salt in Michael Ignatieff's Quebec wound

The Globe and Mail

Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable (Brian Gable)

Michael Ignatieff's principal secretary and top Quebec aide quit because the Liberal Leader doesn't know the province "from Minnesota," Stephen Harper's strategists say.

The gloating memo, sent to Tory MPs and supporters Monday, was inspired by the departure of Jean-Marc Fournier. A former member of Quebec's National Assembly, he left Jean Charest's government in November, 2008, and went to work for Mr. Ignatieff.

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But Mr. Fournier, who was part of the new-look Ignatieff team put together by chief of staff Peter Donolo this year, is now returning to provincial politics. He has been invited back by Mr. Charest and if he wins his seat he will likely be in line for a big cabinet post.

Mr. Ignatieff's office has been a bit of revolving door so it's not great for him to see such a senior aide, especially one from Quebec, leave.

Managing the province has not been Mr. Ignatieff's strong suit, especially given the trouble he had with his former Quebec lieutenant, Denis Coderre, who abruptly quit over a disagreement about a candidate in a Montreal riding.

"Fournier saw first hand that Ignatieff doesn't respect Quebeckers," the Conservative memo says. "For example, he saw that Ignatieff doesn't acknowledge Quebec's distinctiveness, that he can't differentiate Quebec from Minnesota, that he was firmly opposed to Quebec getting a seat at UNESCO, and so forth."

(The Tories have long attacked Mr. Ignatieff for suggesting in one of his books, Blood and Belonging, that the only way to know you are in Quebec and not Vermont or Minnesota is that the signs are in French.)

"Fournier said he came to Ottawa because of Michael Ignatieff's openness to Quebec," the memo says. "However, it didn't take him long to realize that Ignatieff, the Pierre Trudeau admirer and self-proclaimed 'tax-and-spend' Liberal, isn't as open as he would have people believe."

The Liberals tell a much different story of Mr. Fournier's exit, however, providing the letter he sent to all of the leader's staff Tuesday morning. It appears, according to the Liberals, that Mr. Fournier is leaving on very good terms.

"I had many occasions to talk with Mr. Ignatieff," Mr. Fournier writes. "I shared with him my appreciation, my respect and my friendship.

"As it should be, my renewed commitment in Quebec politics will be entirely focused on defending Quebec's interests. But when looking at the challenges and ambitions we share in all parts of Canada, I know that our commitments will bring toward the same direction: partners at the service of our neighbours."

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