Bloc Québécois MP André Bellavance is launching a bid to lead the separatist party in Ottawa on the heels of a devastating setback for the sovereignty movement.
Mr. Bellavance will officially launch his leadership challenge on Tuesday, just two weeks after the crushing defeat of the Parti Québécois in the provincial election. He is also the only candidate to come forward to replace Daniel Paillé, who quit as party leader last December over health reasons before having the opportunity to rebuild a party that was swept to near-extinction by the NDP in 2011.
"The election in Quebec was a disappointment for the Bloc," Mr. Bellavance said in an interview. "But this is not to say that we should abandon the fight. … The time has come for all sovereigntists to examine what went wrong and look to finding solutions for the future. If I become leader of the Bloc, I believe I can help engage in that process."
Those words may sound hollow to many dejected sovereigntists. In the current political climate, Mr. Bellavance stands as a lone voice in the wasteland that the Quebec sovereignty movement appears to have entered since the April 7 vote.
Hardly a notable political figure in the province, Mr. Bellavance is one of only four Bloc MPs remaining in Quebec. His party is fighting for its political survival and knows it cannot be too critical or distance itself too much from the PQ since both parties share many of the same rank-and-file members. A disheartened and despondent PQ does not bode well for any future Bloc leader attempting to mobilize troops for next year's federal election.
As his platform will suggest, Mr. Bellavance won't be proposing any radical changes, moving in the footsteps of former party leader Gilles Duceppe, who argued against an "open strategy" for defining when the next referendum should be held.
The PQ's outgoing Leader Pauline Marois's ambiguity over the holding of a referendum and voters' rejection of wanting another one contributed to the party's downfall. Yet, Mr. Bellavance continues to believe that Ms. Marois had the right strategy.
"An eventual PQ majority government should never close the door to holding another referendum but then again it shouldn't lock itself either into holding one at a set date," he said. "I agreed with Ms. Marois when she said a referendum should only be held when people were ready for one … We can't lock ourselves in a position."
Unless no other candidate comes forward by May 7, Mr. Bellavance will be acclaimed leader. Former Bloc MP Daniel Turp was rumoured to be weighing his options but no definite decision has yet been taken. Without a race, it will be difficult for the party to generate interest and attract new members. It will also make it difficult for the Bloc to become a prominent voice of renewal, particularly among the young voters who, according to public opinion polls, have gradually drifted away from the sovereignty movement.
Rekindling nationalist fervour before the next federal election in 2015 remains a major challenge for a party that has little more to offer than a commitment to defend Quebec's interests in Ottawa. Yet that continues to be the platform from which Mr. Bellavance and the Bloc hope to draw support in the next election.
"Polls continue to show Quebeckers still want a party in Ottawa that will defend their interests. That is our trademark. We are not going to reinvent the wheel," Mr. Bellavance argued. "We will still remain the only party that stands up exclusively for Quebec. … Now we need to convince voters that we can still play that role effectively."