Exit Gilles Duceppe – this time, apparently, for good.
The former Bloc Québécois leader thought he could restart his political career as leader of the Parti Québécois, but he now finds himself embroiled in a controversy over a news report alleging misuse of parliamentary funds – enough to cast a bit of a dark cloud over his image as the holier-than-thou White Knight.
Mr. Duceppe, who was forced out of politics after his party's rout in the last federal election (he lost his seat by more than 5,000 votes to an unknown NDP candidate), was not a happy retiree. He had his eyes on the PQ leadership, but unfortunately for him, the position was occupied by Pauline Marois, who didn't intend to resign despite her poor standing in the polls and strong dissatisfaction about her within the party ranks.
So, Mr. Duceppe worked behind the scenes with his most faithful former aides to try and topple Ms. Marois. His inner circle approached several disenchanted "Péquistes," focusing on left-wing dissidents who had already voiced their discontent with Ms. Marois. But it turned out that the call for rebellion fell on deaf ears.
The "putsch" was rather clumsy and fizzled out only a few days after it began, putting an end to one of the nastiest episodes in the party's troubled life.
Nobody in the PQ – except two well-known trouble-makers who are long-standing opponents of Ms. Marois – took the bait and demanded her resignation. From their perch outside the party, several union leaders announced that they would soon go on the offensive against Ms. Marois, whom they accuse of not being an unconditional supporter of the unions. (She isn't, although like all Péquiste leaders before her, she is sympathetic to the labour movement, certainly more than Jean Charest's Liberal Party.)
But – and this is the important point – not a single PQ MNA joined the tentative putsch against Ms. Marois. Even the riding executives, who had previously been critical of her leadership, kept silent. The MNAs and the party officials didn't want to live under the iron rule of Mr. Duceppe, who's reputed to be a ruthless and authoritarian leader.
It was the second time in under five years that Mr. Duceppe had miserably lost a bid to become PQ leader. In 2007, after former PQ leader André Boisclair resigned, Mr. Duceppe vied for the leadership but quickly backed off when he realized that Ms. Marois had the support of the PQ caucus.
Last week, La Presse reported that under Mr. Duceppe's leadership, the Bloc used House of Commons funds intended for parliamentary purposes to pay the salary of a party official, who worked in Montreal, for upwards of seven years.
As soon as this alleged scandal hit the news, Mr. Duceppe announced that he was quitting active politics to focus on, "defending my integrity and re-establishing my reputation." He also maintained that the Bloc's allocation of House of Commons money was done "transparently" and with due respect for the rules.
This affair had at least one advantage for Mr. Duceppe: It provided him with a pretext to back off from his unsuccessful attempt to take over of the PQ leadership.