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Former Bloc Québécois leader Michel Gauthier dies at 70

Michel Gauthier earned a reputation for his fiery attacks in the House of Commons against the Liberal government during the sponsorship scandal.

Gauthier later joined the Conservatives, trying to help them reshape their image in Quebec

Michel Gauthier served as leader of the Bloc Québécois from 1996 to 1997, at a time when the party was the official opposition. (Jacques Boissinot/La Presse Canadienne)

Michel Gauthier, the one-time leader of the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois who later joined the Conservatives, has died of lung cancer. He was 70 years old.

Gauthier led the Bloc Québécois from 1996 to 1997, before giving up the role to Gilles Duceppe. The two remained close friends. 

"I spoke to him last week. He knew he didn't have much longer," said Duceppe told The Canadian Press. "We spoke of life and politics. These moments weren't easy." 

Gauthier began his political career as an MNA for the Parti Québécois in the 1980s. He served as a parliamentary assistant to Jacques Parizeau, Quebec's finance minister at the time. 

He made the jump to federal politics in 1993, when the recently formed Bloc Québécois stormed into the Opposition. At both the provincial and federal level he represented ridings in the Saguenay area, north of Quebec City.

After Duceppe took over the Bloc's leadership, Gauthier earned a reputation for his fiery attacks against Liberal governments at the time, especially during the sponsorship scandal.

"When he stood in the House [of Commons], the ministers trembled," said Louis Plamondon, who has been a Bloc MP since 1990.

Former Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe, left, with Michel Gauthier at a 2005 meeting in Longueuil. (Jacques Boissinot/La Presse Canadienne)

Gauthier left politics in 2007, becoming a political columnist. In 2018, he criticized then Bloc leader Martine Ouellet, calling on her to resign.

Later that year, he announced he had joined the federal Conservative party and was part of an effort to reshape their image in Quebec. 

The strategy was aimed at rallying conservative nationalist voters who might have once identified with the Progressive Conservatives under Brian Mulroney.

"I had beautiful moments with him beyond the differences that we had. He, like me, wanted Quebec to move forward," Duceppe said. 

Gauthier is survived by his wife Anne Allard, his children Isabelle and Alexandre, and their families. He was living in Gatineau at the time of his death.

"Michel died in the arms of his wife and his two children," Gauthier's family said in a statement.

With files from Radio-Canada and La Presse Canadienne

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