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Cash-strapped Quebec Liberal wing warns of closing

 

 

CAMPBELL CLARK

 

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

 

September 27, 2007 at 5:07 AM EDT

 

 

OTTAWA — The Liberal Party's Quebec wing has warned Leader Stéphane Dion that it needs a quarter-million-dollar cash injection by Friday or it will have to close its Montreal office and lay off staff.

 

The threat is not a sign of a financial crunch but part of an internecine battle between the party's national headquarters, run by officials close to Mr. Dion, and its Quebec machine over the transfer of funds, according to party officials.

 

The Montreal office will remain open, Liberal officials said, but the dire warning has piled onto a run of troubles for Mr. Dion. It all seems to be centred in Quebec, where grumbling about his leadership has been loudest since last week's poor showing in three by-elections, including the loss of the party's traditional safe seat of Outremont.

 

Mr. Dion yesterday lost potential star candidate Marc Garneau, the former astronaut, who said he was frustrated by the leader's delay in appointing him to run in the safe Liberal seat of Westmount-Ville Marie.

 

And even an MP who leapt to his defence, Raymonde Folco, of the suburban Montreal riding of Laval-Les Iles, appeared to damn him with faint praise and conceded that Mr. Dion was "not getting through" in Quebec.

 

At his age, Ms. Folco told reporters, the leader is not going to be able to change radically, so strong players in the party might have to travel with him in the province.

 

Former Liberal cabinet minister Jean Lapierre said on CTV-Newsnet that the party's Quebec director-general, Serge Marcil, told Mr. Dion "that if [the Liberals] don't deposit a quarter of a million dollars by Friday, they probably will have to close down the office in Montreal and they can't even honour the payroll."

 

When reached by telephone, the president of the party's Quebec wing, Robert Fragasso, said he would call back, but he did not.

 

A spokesman for the Liberal Party in Ottawa, Elizabeth Whiting, said that the party's Montreal office will not close. She said that a request for funds came from Quebec, but did not discuss the details, although she acknowledged that Ottawa and the Quebec Liberals disagree over money.

The public departure of Mr. Garneau was another blow to Mr. Dion yesterday. The former head of the Canadian Space Agency had wanted to carry the party's banner in Westmount Ville-Marie, but decided to give up on running for the party because he doubted Mr. Dion would choose him.

 

The Liberal Leader has said he will name a candidate in the riding, but, having been passed over for an appointment in Outremont, Mr. Garneau said he decided he will no longer try to run.

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