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Bloc Québécois must decide whether it has a raison d'être

Gilles Duceppe speaks to reporters at a post-election news conference on May 11, 2011 in Laval, Que.


The Bloc Québécois is mired in an existential crisis, with one ex-MP referring to the "cadaver" of former Leader Gilles Duceppe and another wondering whether there is still a party worth leading.

Mr. Duceppe has distanced himself from all major decisions on the party's future, emerging eight days after his resignation to state that he plans to spend his time cooking, reading and biking after he closes his offices and his apartment in Ottawa.

"I've been sad. It's been painful," Mr. Duceppe told reporters in Laval, Que, on Wednesday. "That's life. When you give some hits, you have to expect to receive some, and I have."

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The Bloc was reduced to a four-member rump in the federal election, and the NDP became the dominant political force in Quebec. The sovereigntist party must now decide whether to continue, and if so, when to pick another leader.

One prominent ex-Bloc MP, former House Leader Pierre Paquette, has thrown his hat into the ring.

"Our members need to be reassured that there will be some continuity and that there are those who are willing to work at it," Mr. Paquette said.

But the move earned the rebuke of another former Bloc heavyweight in Ottawa.

"I'm angry. One should have at least the decency to wait for the cadaver to go cold," former Bloc MP and whip Michel Guimond said.

Another former Bloc MP, Daniel Paillé, said there should be no hurry to launch a leadership race, and that questions on the party's raison d'être need to be answered first.

"We can't pretend that the question about the relevance of a sovereigntist party in Ottawa hasn't been asked. Has the Bloc done its time? Twenty years is a long time," Mr. Paillé said in an open letter in La Presse newspaper on Wednesday.

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Still, Mr. Paillé added that if the Bloc survives, he will explore the possibility of seeking the leadership.

Mr. Duceppe quit as leader on election night after failing to win in his own riding of Laurier-Ste-Marie. While he said on Wednesday that major decisions will be left to Bloc members, he suggested he wants the party to survive, given that it has more than 50,000 official supporters across Quebec and associations in all of the province's 75 ridings.

He took responsibility for the election results, and expressed surprise that Quebeckers abandoned the Bloc for relatively unknown NDP candidates.

"It's difficult to fight against the thirst for change, especially if that change that is represented by ghosts," Mr. Duceppe said.

Mr. Duceppe pointed out the Bloc won a majority of seats in Quebec in every election since 1993, adding he feels the newfound support for the NDP is not a rebuke of the Bloc's performance in Ottawa.

"I didn't hear anyone talk to me negatively about the Bloc," Mr. Duceppe said about his conversations after the election.

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He pointed out that polls suggested that he won the French-language leaders' debate. In his view, a subsequent poll that gave a wide lead to the NDP in Quebec provided a "spark" to Jack Layton, who will be the leader of the Official Opposition in the House.

"It was a new option that had never been seen as tangible, had never been taken seriously, with an obviously sympathetic leader," Mr. Duceppe said.

The NDP's stunning result of 58 seats in Quebec, in Mr. Duceppe's view, is a rejection of the agenda of the Conservative Party, which won a majority with the help of voters in the rest of the country.

"Quebec and Canada voted quite differently," he said.

Although the Bloc won almost 23 per cent of the vote in Quebec, its results were not enough to obtain official party status, which would have meant steady funding and a regular role in Question Period.

The Bloc is eight seats away from the 12-seat threshold to get the status, but it will ask for an exception to the rule because of the House's recognition of the existence of a Québécois nation.

"The first thing we will do will be to ask to be recognized as an official party," said Maria Mourani, one of the four Bloc candidates who survived the electoral meltdown.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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