Martine Ouellet vows to stay on as Bloc leader despite revolt over her leadership

Bloc Québécois Leader Martine Ouellet is not budging from her insistence on promoting sovereignty at every turn, despite it having cost her the support of most of her caucus and a long list of former MPs.

Sovereigntist party says rebel MPs who bolted can stay in party, door is always open to them

Bloc Québécois Leader Martine Ouellet has been facing calls to step down after most of her caucus quit earlier this week, but told a news conference Saturday, she plans to stay. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Bloc Québécois Leader Martine Ouellet is not budging from her insistence on promoting sovereignty at every turn, despite it having cost her the support of most of her caucus and a long list of former MPs. 

Ouellet emerged from a seven-hour emergency meeting of party executives on Saturday appearing dumbfounded that anyone within the party would question her desire to aggressively talk up Quebec's independence. 

"How can MPs tell me that they think as a chief of the Bloc Québécois, which is an independentist party, I talk too much about independence. I don't understand," Ouellet said at a late afternoon news conference, where she vowed to stay on as leader.

But her approach to the sovereignty question has split the party. Seven of its 10 MPs bolted from caucus on Wednesday. They likened Ouellet's leadership to driving a car into a wall at 200 km/h. 

Luc Thériault, MP for Montcalm, speaking for the group of seven Bloc MPs who left caucus earlier this week, protested Martine Ouellet's leadership style. (Radio-Canada)

"The loyalty of the co-pilot is in saying, 'If we continue like this we're going to crash,'" the rebel MPs said in an open letter published Saturday in the Journal de Montréal, Quebec's largest circulation daily. 

They believe sovereignty promotion is best handled by the Parti Québécois, a party that Ouellet has twice campaigned to lead, both times unsuccessfully.  

No support from former leader, MPs

The breakaway faction is backed by a group of 21 former Bloc MPs — including ex-leader Gilles Duceppe — who also called on Ouellet to step down in a separate open letter. 

Duceppe led the party to a series of impressive electoral results in the early 2000s by focusing on defending Quebec's interests in Ottawa. He accused Ouellet of imperiling the party's future with her hardline strategy. 

"Ouellet weakened the voice of Quebec in Ottawa at the very moment that it needs a strong voice," said the open letter, which Duceppe wrote.

There was little in what Ouellet said Saturday to indicate she was willing to compromise with her critics. She pointed out she was acclaimed as the party's leader last year and said she has the unanimous support of the party executive. 

Ouellet was surrounded at the news conference by members of the executive, including chair Mario Beaulieu, the party's former leader. He stepped down just ahead of the 2015 federal election when it appeared the Bloc was risking extinction.  

Duceppe returned temporarily, and helped the party win the 10 seats it now holds, most in the suburban areas around Montreal.

'Door remains open'

The breakaway faction now sits as a separate parliamentary group. After Ouellet's news conference on Saturday, they issued a statement of their own saying "nothing has changed."

"We will meet in the coming days to evaluate our options and see how we can serve Quebecers to the best of our abilities," the statement said.

Ouellet was acclaimed as leader of the party last year. She claims to enjoy the unanimous support of the party executive. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Ouellet, for her part, said she still hopes the rebel MPs will return to caucus. As a sign of good faith, the Bloc's executive decided not to strip them of their party memberships, a possibility that had been invoked earlier.  

"The door remains open," said Ouellet.

Her current leadership woes can be traced to a speech she gave last month to a party convention, during which she called out Bloc MPs for their "resistance" to her new goals for the party. 

She also blamed them for leaking information about her demands for a $95,000 annual salary from the party. 

Ouellet herself does not have a seat in the House of Commons, which complicated her efforts to impose her will on the caucus.

A former Parti Québécois MNA, she now sits as an independent in the provincial legislature and does not intend to run in Quebec's fall election. 

About the Author

Jonathan Montpetit is a journalist with CBC Montreal.