Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois has demanded that her caucus members pledge their allegiance to the party, its program and her leadership.
“I can assure you the hemorrhaging has stopped,” Ms. Marois said at the end of a five-hour caucus meeting on Wednesday at a tourist resort near Quebec City. Five members of the caucus have resigned over the last few weeks.
“I asked [the remaining caucus members] if they adhered to the party program, if they would stay in the PQ and that they would be by my side. They all said yes.”
With the future of the party at stake, caucus members said there was a desperate need to close ranks.
“I’m not among those who thinks it would be intelligent for the Parti Québécois to implode,” said veteran François Gendron in making a passionate plea to save the party. “A party isn’t a toy, especially a political party that has made its mark on history. This is major.”
Mr. Gendron was particularly upset over the call for a new coalition of pro-sovereignty forces by Pierre Curzi, who quit the PQ caucus to sit as an independent sovereigntist.
“As if we can achieve sovereignty with a bunch of independent sovereigntists. Come on! The joke has lasted long enough,” Mr. Gendron said.
The PQ’s appeal as the coalition of nationalist forces in Quebec is being seriously challenged by the possible emergence of a new nationalist political party headed by former PQ minister François Legault. Mr. Legault promises to bury the debate over sovereignty and renewed federalism for at least another decade as part of a platform for his right-of-centre coalition that will likely lead to the creation of a new party.
“The coalition already exists and it is the PQ,” said Raymond Archambault, president of the PQ party executive. “You may think it is on the verge of disintegrating but we will see. The PQ still exists. It is a sovereigntists’ party who will hold a referendum on sovereignty at the appropriate time. We don’t want to hold a losing referendum.”
Mr. Legault’s appeal with voters has created a sense of panic among PQ supporters who fear that the party may meet the same fate as that of the Bloc Québécois, which was reduced to four seats in last month’s federal election.
The changing political landscape has placed the PQ caucus at a crossroads after the resignation two weeks ago of four of its most prominent members of the National Assembly, who criticized Ms. Marois’s leadership style and the absence of an aggressive strategy to achieve sovereignty. On Tuesday, another caucus member, Benoît Charette, resigned for the opposite reason, claiming the party was focusing too much on sovereignty, He opened the door to joining Mr. Legault’s coalition.
PQ MNA Bernard Drainville argued during Wednesday’s caucus meeting for a more direct approach on the sovereignty issue.
“We need to tell Quebeckers what we are asking them to support on sovereignty. This is the mandate we are asking you to give us if you put us in power. ... It doesn’t exclude a referendum [on sovereignty]. I don’t think Quebeckers expect us to exclude a referendum,” Mr. Drainville said. But he also said that Quebeckers aren’t ready for a third referendum on sovereignty and it would be irresponsible to promise to hold one if the PQ forms the next government.
Ms. Marois gave no indication she favoured a more aggressive strategy on sovereignty. Instead she took aim at the dissenters, suggesting they betrayed the voters who elected the PQ in their ridings.