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As members depart, Parti Québécois risks disintegration

Parti Québécois Pauline Marois speaks in the National Assembly in Quebec City on Nov. 24, 2011.

Jacques Boissinot/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The Parti Québécois is showing signs of disintegrating in full public view with the expulsion of yet another caucus member, Daniel Ratthé, after he indicated he may soon join Coalition-Avenir-Quebec, a new party created by former PQ minister François Legault.

Stealing a page from Mr. Legault's party platform, Mr. Ratthé said he doesn't believe sovereignty is a priority for Quebeckers and that the focus should be placed on other issues such as education and health care.

"I recently spoke with Mr. Legault. He knows I am reflecting on my political future. No deal was struck between us," Mr. Ratthé said, adding that he was leaving the door open to joining Mr. Legault's new party.

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There was no doubt in PQ Leader Pauline Marois's mind that Mr. Ratthé is planning to run under the CAQ banner in the next election. After a brief meeting with Mr. Ratthé on Thursday, she expelled him from caucus and issued a warning that she will not tolerate opportunists in her ranks.

"I expelled him and told him … that I wanted to work with people who had convictions and who were not opportunists," Ms. Marois said after stating earlier that she would not keep anyone in her caucus who is considering joining the CAQ.

For Premier Jean Charest, whose party continues to plummet in public-opinion polls, the PQ defection comes as a blessing. Mr. Charest has attempted to portray Mr. Legault as a separatist in disguise. The more PQ MNAs such as Mr. Ratthé join the ranks of Mr. Legault's so-called "caquistes," the easier it will be for him to convince federalists to think twice about abandoning the Liberal Party.

"There is another sovereigntist going to the caquistes," Mr. Charest said. "Mr. Legault is a sovereigntist or a separatist if you prefer. He hasn't changed his mind. He continues to be a separatist-sovereigntist. And now he has another separatist-sovereigntist with him. What else is new. That's what he represents."

The loss of eight caucus members who have either been expelled or quit over the past five months has cast a shadow over Ms. Marois's troubled leadership. Mr. Ratthé was the second PQ Member of the National Assembly in as many days to be booted out of caucus.

On Wednesday, Guy Leclair, the PQ MNA from the riding of Beauharnois, located just outside Montreal, was suspended after the party accused him of being the mole who leaked the contents of confidential caucus conversations to a Quebec City newspaper, Le Journal de Québec. The party also identified Mr. Leclair as the anonymous source who spoke of a potential putsch against Ms. Marois involving about 10 caucus members.

Mr. Leclair adamantly denied the accusations, but in a bizarre twist the Journal de Québec identified Mr. Leclair as their anonymous source. Even though the newspaper said it revealed its source inadvertently, the damage may be irreparable for Mr. Leclair.

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Both Mr. Leclair and Mr. Ratthé were recently identified as being part of a group PQ MNAs who called Ms. Marois's leadership into question.

"I was never part of a group fomenting a putsch against Ms. Marois," Mr. Ratthé said. But he admitted that he recently held a meeting with a handful of other PQ caucus members at his Quebec City apartment to find a way of getting rid of Ms. Marois. When the attempt failed, he decided he would have to be the one to leave.

"Ms. Marois has taken a firm position. … She said she would stay as party leader," Mr. Ratthé said. "I came to the conclusion that I could not challenge her. I had to decide what I had to do with respect to her decision."

Others, tempted by the lead Mr. Legault's party has in the polls, may be considering doing the same. Mr. Ratthé refused to speculate on how many more could defect, but didn't deny that others were considering it.

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