Parti Québécois Leader André Boisclair resigned Tuesday after weeks of speculation about his political future following the sovereigntist party's plungein the March provincial election and a public spat with his Bloc counterpart, Gilles Duceppe.

'I gave the best of myself in this position but the current conditions don't allow me to do this anymore.' —André Boisclair, resigning as PQ leader

Boisclair confirmed he was stepping down during a brief and dignified appearance in front of reporters and his caucus at the provincial legislature in Quebec City Tuesday morning — the same day politicians were returning for the spring session.

"This decision was one I reflected on profoundly," Boisclair told the news conference.

"To lead the Parti Québécois, you need force and courage," he said, adding he had experienced great moments of happiness and immense challenges during his brief 18-month tenure.

"I gave the best of myself in this position but the current conditions don't allow me to do this anymore," Boisclair said as his glum-looking caucus members looked on. "I'm 41, and I have a lot of things to accomplish."

Hisunexpected resignation opens the door for another leadership race within the PQ, which has anointed and rejected four leaders in the last decade.

Boisclair's role as leader was turbulent from the beginning butbecame a major issue after the PQ fell to third place in the national assembly in the March provincial election. The party won only 36 of the 125 seats, while Mario Dumont's Action Démocratique du Québec surged into second place with 41 seats.

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André Boisclair, stepping down Tuesday as PQ leader, referred to the party's plunge in the March provincial election, saying he would 'assume with humility the responsibility of that defeat.' ((Clément Allard/Canadian Press))

Boisclair said he would "assume with humility the responsibility of that defeat."

Hehad also sparred openly of late with the Bloc Québécois leader, amid rumours that party insiders were clamouring at Duceppe's door in a bid to recruit him for the PQ leadership.

During the news conference Tuesday,as tears sprang to his eyes and his lips trembled, Boisclair took a long pause while caucus members clapped in support. He said he wanted to finish on a positive note.

"I'm profoundly convinced that this francophone nation in North America will one day choose liberty. I wish them courage."

The Montreal native said he would continue to sit as a member of the national assembly for Pointe-aux-Trembles.

Parti Québécois MNAs shocked

Many PQmembers at the provincial legislaturehad trouble hiding their shock and surprise during the bombshell announcement, and several had tears in their eyes as they fled reporters looking for comments after the press conference.

'The Parti Québécois eats its leaders quite quickly.'—Former PQ cabinet minister Sylvain Simard

"It's very sad. It's a very sad day," said Bernard Drainville, former Radio-Canada bureau chief and newly elected MNA for Marie-Victorin.

Some paid homage to their young leader, whom they say rallied a new generation of sovereigntists."I want to salute him for his work," said Gouin MNA Nicolas Girard, one of Boisclair's most vocal supporters."He was very generous as a leader, and I want to express all my affection for him."

PQ finance critic François Legault, who was among those quietly questioning Boisclair's recent performance, applauded his leader on Tuesday.

"Mr. Boisclair made a dignified decision, and he has all my respect. He inherited a situation that's not easy. The [party] needs modernization."

Former PQ cabinet minister and veteran MNA Sylvain Simard said few Péquiste leaders survive an electoral defeat. "The Parti Québécois eats its leaders quite quickly."

But Boisclair's resignation does not mark a decline of Quebec's independence movement, he added. "Don't try to bury the PQ now. We will have a new leader. We will improve our program."

Duceppe: 'It was a noble decision'

Political observers had predicted Boisclair's days as leader were numbered following the election and after engaging in a public battle with Duceppe thatmany called a political suicide attack.

ANDRÉ BOISCLAIR:
From youngest MNA to party leader
  • When he was first elected to the national assembly in 1989 in the Montreal-area Gouin riding, he was 23 — the youngest member of Quebec's legislature.
  • He rose through the legislative ranks, holding several cabinet portfolios — including the environment —in the 1990s under Lucien Bouchard and Bernard Landry,
  • He resigned from the national assembly in 2004 to pursue his education at Harvard, where he completed a graduate program in public policy.
  • He returned to provincial politics in 2005 after Landry's resignation and trounced his opponents in a long and drawn-out leadership race that lasted most of the year.
  • He was elected in the Montreal-area riding of Pointe-aux-Trembles in August 2006 in a byelection.
  • In March 2007, he led the PQ to its worst showing in a provincial election in three decades.
During an interview with the CBC's French-language network on May 4, Boisclair accused Duceppe of plotting a takeover of the Parti Québécois. He also told Radio-Canada that Duceppe should mind his own business to focus on affairs in Ottawa.

But Duceppe, who iswidely expectedto take over the PQ's top spot, shied away from declaring his intentions on Tuesday.

Instead, the Bloc leader tipped his hat to Boisclair,who he said haddedicated his life to the sovereigntist movement.

"We are human, and we chose this life, but it's a hard life, and André knows this," Duceppe told reporters after question period on Parliament Hill.

"I respect his decision. I think it was a noble decision, and I don't think it was an easy decision to make."

The long-serving Bloc leaderwould not say whether he feelsa pull towards Quebec City. "Today is not time to do strategy."

Embattled from beginning

Boisclair's turn as PQ leader was turbulent from the very beginning.

When Bernard Landry stepped down in 2005 following a disappointing leadership review, Boisclair was elected as his replacement despitethe intense scrutiny that dogged himafter he admittedto using cocaineas a cabinet minister in the 1990s.

As Quebec's first openly gay political leader, Boisclair alsodeflected intense criticism in December 2006 after he participated in a television parody of Brokeback Mountain, a film abouthomosexual cowboys.

With files from the Canadian Press