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Amid brewing ethics scandal, Duceppe drops plan for comeback Add to ...

Former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe has squelched talk of a possible political comeback in the wake of a report he used public funds to pay party staff while he was federal leader.

A story in La Presse said Mr. Duceppe paid the salary of his general manager for seven years from a House of Commons budget intended for parliamentary staff. While the former Bloc chief insisted his party abided by the rules, MPs from other parties accused him of an ethics breach.

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According to the newspaper account, Bloc Québécois general manager Gilbert Gardner received a taxpayer-financed salary while he worked in Montreal on the party’s management and organization. His salary rose to more than $100,000 annually in recent years.

Reports suggest Mr. Duceppe could face a House committee investigation since such budgets are intended for parliamentary staff.

The La Presse story coincided with signs Mr. Duceppe was eyeing a return to active politics as leader of the provincial Parti Québécois, whose chief, Pauline Marois, has faced internal party dissension and questions about her leadership.

Mr. Duceppe did little to calm the speculation of a potential takeover, saying midweek he would leave it up to PQ members and Ms. Marois to make the “right decision” about the party’s future.

On Sunday, however, Mr. Duceppe closed the door to a comeback and ended a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft him for the top PQ job. He issued a press release saying he would devote himself full-time to “defending my integrity and re-establishing my reputation.”

“It is therefore impossible to envision a return to active politics.”

He said his party’s allocation of House of Commons money was done “transparently” and “everything that was done respected the rules.”

It’s the second time Mr. Duceppe has balked at making the jump to his sovereigntist ally, the PQ. In 2007 he announced his candidacy to seek the leadership of the party, only to flip-flop less than 24 hours later.

Mr. Duceppe stepped down as Bloc leader this year after the party’s abysmal showing in the May 2 federal vote, which saw it reduced to four seats.

Ms. Marois, meanwhile, spent Sunday publicly affirming her control over her party after recruiting two new candidates this week and attempting to end a wave of defections and attacks on her leadership. “I’m very combative, and I’m serene at the same time,” she said.

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