Internal party politics, as we've noted in this space before, are seldom pretty, usually petty, and often irrelevant. But that's not the case with the internecine feud that's tearing apart the Quebec wing of the federal Liberal Party.
Certainly the squabble is ugly, and it does cast a very unflattering light on the pettiness of two of Quebec's most ambitious Liberals - Martin Cauchon and Denis Coderre. But this internal fight is far from irrelevant; it concerns us all in Quebec.
We know that every election here, federal and provincial, is really a contest between those who would keep the country united and those who would tear it apart. Squabbling among Quebec Liberals can only weaken the cause of national unity. In short, this quarrel is bad news for Canada and good news for Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc Québécois.
This is especially disappointing because the Liberal Party under Michael Ignatieff was slowly emerging as a strong federalist contender that might have been able to challenge the Bloc's pretension to be the sole authentic voice of francophone Quebec. But now Quebec's Liberals seem far more prepared to fight each other than to wage an election campaign for the hearts and minds of Quebecers.
The sad thing is that on the federal scene, at least, the Canadian cause hasn't had a strong standard-bearer since the failure of the Meech Lake Accord tore apart Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative Party and spawned the Bloc Québécois.
We had hoped as recently as a year ago that the Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper would be able to fill the breach, but that promise seems to be dimming faster than a January afternoon, thanks in large part to a number of bad stumbles by Harper during the last general election campaign.
Now the Liberals, who had appeared under Ignatieff to be gaining traction with francophone voters, have decided to immolate themselves at exactly the wrong moment. Duceppe must be beside himself with glee.
Ignatieff should forget any thoughts of forcing an election until his party has shown it has the troops and the unity to mount a real fight in Quebec and at least take a shot at relegating the Bloc to the irrelevance it so richly deserves. Gilles Duceppe has had things his own way in too much of Quebec for far too long.