Gilles Duceppe readily admits to harbouring obsessive tendencies.
If a painting on a wall is crooked, he will stand up midway through a meal to set it straight. He called his daughter repeatedly last year when she was pregnant to ensure that she received the H1N1 vaccine and plans to do it again this year to remind her to install her winter tires.
"I'm always placing things back where they belong," he says. "There is nothing astray on my desk. I'm sure that for my advisers, it must get annoying once in a while."
The Bloc Québécois Leader confesses that his school-principal wife has found him to be obsessive, a neat freak, and more.
"Yolande tells me that I'm hyperactive, and somewhat of a maniac for details," he says.
It stands to reason, then, that if Mr. Duceppe had a recipe for longevity in politics, the instructions would be freakishly precise.
This week marks his 20th anniversary as MP, and the Bloc Leader has developed a routine for his days on Parliament Hill.
Mr. Duceppe leaves for work at 6:40 a.m. He reads eight or nine newspapers at the office, before getting ready for the day's Question Period.
He brings a lunch to eat in his office, having prepared food for himself and his wife the previous weekend. He goes to the gym in the afternoon, and ends his days by watching the news and then reading a book, aiming for 200 pages a week.
Mr. Duceppe says he is always thinking of upcoming events. He insists that every detail be nailed down before he emerges into the foyer of the House of Commons to speak to reporters, in the same way that he is already getting ready for the next leaders' televised debate. Speaking about an upcoming 20-kilometre bike ride, he says he will be engaging in a lot of internal dialogue.
"It's an occasion for me to practice my lines for the debate. I debate with the other leaders, I go through their attacks, I give my answers, and I pedal," he says.
Much has been said in recent years about Mr. Duceppe and the Bloc, especially the irony of the party's longevity in Ottawa and its failure to dismantle the federal system from the inside. But the anniversary of Mr. Duceppe's first by-election victory on Aug. 13, 1990, also serves as a reminder that he has seen three NDP and four Liberal leaders come and go, and outlived the entire Reform Party/Canadian Alliance experience.
If an election were held today, according to the most recent public opinion surveys, the party would win a majority of seats in Quebec for the seventh straight time.
While the Bloc has won a series of legislative victories over the years, its biggest coup is convincing Quebeckers, election after election, that they need a distinct voice in Ottawa.
The other key element of the Bloc Québécois Leader's personality, according to his long-time adviser Pierre-Paul Roy, is that he is as much at ease "in a salon as in a back alley.
"He likes getting into a scrap. We have to be careful on that front and sometimes tie him down," Mr. Roy says. "That is his natural instinct, and it helps explain his longevity. He is determined, and he wants to win."
Mr. Duceppe explains his tight control over the Bloc caucus by comparing politics to a football game. The team spends a week trying to prepare for its opponent, with the coach gathering information from all of his players. When the game starts, the time for consultations is over, and the coach is in charge.
"When the players are in their 20-second huddle before a play, it isn't the time to start debating the game plan," he said.
At the start of the 2008 election campaign, Mr. Duceppe told Quebeckers that the Bloc was the best bet to prevent the Conservatives from obtaining a majority. The first few days of the campaign were rough, but he stuck to his message. When a furor over relatively small cuts to cultural programs erupted in the middle of the campaign, the Bloc was there to reap the rewards, and won 49 of 75 seats in Quebec. The Conservatives fell short of a majority.
Mr. Duceppe says he has no intention of quitting as Bloc Leader, the position he has held since 1997 after Lucien Bouchard left to become Quebec premier. Now 63, Mr. Duceppe has talked of staying into his 70s to continue fighting for his dream of Quebec sovereignty.
While his professional life is largely in Ottawa, Mr. Duceppe speaks fondly of his time back in Montreal with his family, including his children who were 11 and 16 when he became an MP, and are now in their 30s with kids. Mr. Duceppe gets especially excited when he talks about how he prepares romantic dinners with his wife on Friday nights, at which point some of his main traits are particularly appreciated.
"Everything is neatly set up, and I change the plates and cutlery for each course," he says.