Pierre Karl Péladeau, the business tycoon and apparent front-runner to lead the Parti Québécois, has thrown the PQ's crippled federal cousin into further turmoil by suggesting the Bloc Québécois has outlived its usefulness.
Mr. Péladeau, who has yet to officially declare his candidacy, told PQ faithful last week the Bloc "serves no purpose, other than to justify federalism.
"I've always had a problem with the Bloc," he said in comments to a meeting of the party's youth wing last Friday.
Confronted by reporters Tuesday, Mr. Péladeau tried to soften his tone on the Bloc, saying the PQ's federal partner in the pursuit of Quebec independence is still relevant. "I was asking a question and we have the right to ask questions," he told reporters in Quebec City. "The question is also whether to work with federalism or to fight federalism."
The future of the Bloc was thrown into question after the disastrous 2011 election, when nearly all of the party's 47 seats went to the NDP. Severely weakened, the party selected hardliner Mario Beaulieu as leader. Two of four remaining MPs quit the party a short time later.
"We need to work together on the national interests of Quebec," said Mr. Beaulieu, who called a news conference to counter Mr. Péladeau's original statement. "I think we'll be able to work with Mr. Péladeau on that objective."
The comments reported by La Presse triggered pained outcry from sovereigntist stalwarts, but also caused discomfort for Mr. Péladeau, who has often avoided questions from reporters since becoming a member of the National Assembly.
Mr. Péladeau complained Tuesday that Denis Lessard, a senior La Presse reporter, called his cellphone.
"I ask Denis Lessard to stop harassing me, to respect the rules of the National Assembly, and not call my personal cellphone," Mr. Péladeau wrote on his Twitter account. It wasn't clear to what rules Mr. Péladeau was referring, nor did he go into detail about the nature of the alleged harassment. He did not answer questions sent via social media.
In an update Tuesday, Mr. Lessard wrote that he attempted to reach Mr. Péladeau through his spokesperson and that Mr. Péladeau was "beside himself" when Mr. Lessard rang his cell.
It's all part of a rough transition to political life for a man who was used to calling the shots as head of Quebecor and had a hard time following the party line during the spring provincial election.
Mr. Péladeau declared he wanted to make Quebec an independent country on his first day of campaigning, knocking then-leader Pauline Marois off stride and ending years of PQ ambiguity on how aggressively they might pursue independence. Still, recent polls show Mr. Péladeau is by far the most popular potential candidate to take the helm.
Bernard Drainville, who is running to lead the PQ, said the Bloc, with its two seats in the House of Commons, remains a vital force for Quebec interests. "If the Bloc isn't there to speak for us, who will be there to say no to pipelines, to say no to using the St. Lawrence River to transporting bitumen from Alberta?" he said.
The Bloc Québécois was founded in 1991, mainly by former Progressive Conservative and Liberal MPs, in the wake of the failure of the Meech Lake constitutional accord. Founders, including former leader Lucien Bouchard, said it was a temporary party to represent Quebec's interests in Ottawa on the way to a winning referendum campaign.
"Mr. Bouchard said we would appreciate the Bloc if it had a limited existence," Mr. Péladeau told the party youth meeting last week. "Twenty-five years later, we can see there's still a lot of work to do."
With files from the Canadian Press