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Newly elected Bloc Quebecois leader Daniel Paille poses in his offices in Montreal, Dec. 12, 2011. (Christinne Muschi/Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)
Newly elected Bloc Quebecois leader Daniel Paille poses in his offices in Montreal, Dec. 12, 2011. (Christinne Muschi/Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)

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New Bloc Leader evokes passion of Jack Layton in laying out party plan Add to ...

When the federal election last May left the Bloc Québécois in tatters, Daniel Paillé entertained doubts about whether the party could be rebuilt.

“Everything is on the table,” he wrote, going on to describe the May 2 election loss as “a slap, a thrashing, a walloping.” The defeat was too intense to blame on a simple desire for change, too profound to attribute to one man’s smile, he said, referring to NDP Leader Jack Layton.

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And yet, the day after his election as the new leader of the Bloc on Sunday, Mr. Paillé offered a familiar answer to the question he described as so complex seven short months ago: What happened?

“In this election there were many phenomenons, but above all there remains Jack Layton. First, Jack Layton,” Mr. Paillé said in an interview.

“He ran a different campaign, it was really quite exceptional, he made people dream. He said, ‘We will do politics differently.’ He made people dream of change, and there was change.”

We’ll never know what Mr. Layton, who died in August, might have accomplished with his 59 Quebec MPs, Mr. Paillé said. But instead of a refreshing change, he said, Quebeckers are watching a Conservative majority government reshape Canada into something unfamiliar.

The crackdown on crime, the elimination of the gun registry and the fact that Quebec didn’t get a piece of a gigantic federal contract to build new ships are just the start, he said.

Mr. Paillé, 61, an economist, father of two adult sons and grandfather of two, has split his working life among politics, the provincial civil service and the executive suite of major Quebec corporations, including Quebecor and Canam Group.

He won the party leadership handily on Sunday, but with a dismal turnout among a dwindling number of party members. The party has slid from 50,000 members in May to 36,000 today. Around 14,000 bothered to vote.

Without a seat in Parliament, Mr. Paillé (who lost his on May 2, along with all but four Bloc MPs) plans to storm the province riding by riding to hear from activists, rebuild his party and make concrete proposals.

Mr. Paillé studied economics at the École des hautes études commerciales under Jacques Parizeau, and started his career by working for him at the Ministry of Finance in the late 1970s. Elected provincially under the Parti Québécois banner in 1994, he served in Mr. Parizeau’s cabinet.

Mr. Paillé has never been described as an independence hard-liner along the lines of Mr. Parizeau, who he says taught him the importance of rigour and hard work. But the new leader said he plans to refocus the party on sovereignty after years of following a doctrine of defending Quebec’s interests above all else.

“The Bloc often defended the consensus coming out of Quebec, even if it was the consensus of a federalist government. The Bloc must never forget it is a sovereigntist party,” Mr. Paillé said.

Mr. Paillé’s career as a politician consisted of two rather brief stints. He resigned from the National Assembly in 1996 after two years, to become a vice-president at the province’s investment arm, the Société générale de financement, and also served two years as a Bloc MP in Ottawa before his defeat in May.

His time in provincial politics was brief but somewhat tumultuous. In 1994, on the eve of the election, he warned investment bankers they could be frozen out of government business for suggesting that anxiety over the PQ’s looming victory was driving up interest rates. A year later, he used ministerial letterhead to complain to the mayor of Montreal about a daycare centre opening up near his home. He apologized.

Once described as cocky, Mr. Paillé said he has gained wisdom with age. “But if I was described as cocky, it was because I was very direct, I didn’t mince words. It was a bit hard, it was a bit shocking, but people like that now.”

Mr. Paillé will have plenty of time to find out how much people like it. He has 46 months to rebuild his party, with the next federal election date fixed for October, 2015.

Follow on Twitter: @Perreaux

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