The disintegration of the once-mighty Action démocratique du Quebec gathered speed with the sudden resignation Friday of one-third of what remains of its rump of a caucus.
The right-wing, third-place provincial party has suddenly lost two of its remaining six elected members, who told a news conference that they would sit as Independents.
They include Eric Caire, who recently came in second in the party's leadership race, and colleague Marc Picard.
Mr. Caire cast his move as a question of principle - and said he couldn't recognize the right-wing party he once believed in.
"This is no longer the party I worked for," Mr. Caire said. "That ADQ no longer exists for me."
The recent paper-thin leadership victory of Gilles Taillon - by only two votes - is coming under increased scrutiny, with reports of campaign irregularities.
For one thing, a television personality, in an on-air stunt, voted in the election under the name of recently deceased Gabonese strongman Omar Bongo.
There are now reports that the party president, who was supposed to be neutral in the race, helped raise money and organize for Mr. Taillon.
Despite his controversy-marred, paper-thin victory, Mr. Taillon surprised observers by naming a shadow cabinet that did not include a critic's role for his leadership rival. New leaders of political parties typically bend over backwards to please their old rivals in the name of party unity.
But the ADQ leader's right-hand man, Francois Bonnardel, insisted Friday that Mr. Caire had refused the roles offered to him.
Mr. Bonnardel said the ADQ continues to be recognized with official-party status, will keep its parliamentary budget, and will continue fighting for the policies it believes in.
But he admitted that the departure of two "friends" was painful for the party.
"I'm very disappointed," Mr. Bonnardel said. "Let's not kid ourselves - we were stunned."
The defectors say they will not join another party, and will remain Independents in the legislature.
Just recently, the ADQ had close ties to the federal Harper government and was considered a serious contender for power.
But a disastrous election result led to the departure of long-time leader Mario Dumont last year, and now the party is left without a household name.
Mr. Caire was asked whether he'd just hammered the final nail into the coffin of the ADQ and replied in the negative. The fate of the party, he said, will depend on the success of its future leaders.
The new leader, Mr. Taillon, has said he does not want any formal ties to the federal Conservatives.
The party shared on-the-ground organizers with the Tories and some influential members of the Harper government were also prominent members of the ADQ.
But that close relationship appeared to do the Tories some harm, because it upset the provincial Liberal government of Jean Charest and causing a public rift between the premier and prime minister.
A prominent political commentator predicted a dark, brief future for the ADQ. He also criticized its leader for failing to keep the party united.
"This smells like the end of the ADQ," Jean Lapierre told LCN network.
"This is a lamentable failure for Mr. Taillon. ... He was already the leader of nothing. Now he's the leader of less than nothing."
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