Martine Ouellet takes over Bloc Quebecois, promising to return it to former glory

Martine Ouellet came up short in her bid to lead one sovereigntist party, but she has been handed the keys to another.

Faltering federal party turns to former PQ leadership hopeful to revive fortunes

Newly acclaimed Bloc Quebecois leader Martine Ouellet salutes supporters. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Martine Ouellet came up short in her bid to lead one sovereigntist party, but she has been handed the keys to another.

The former provincial cabinet minister officially became the leader of the Bloc Québécois at party meeting Saturday in Montreal. Her only competition in the race, Félix Pinel, dropped out earlier this week.

Ouellet finished third in last year's Parti Québécois leadership race, during which she stood out for taking a hardline on sovereignty.

She takes over the party having secured the support of seven of the 10 Bloc MPs. But the party she is taking is a shadow of its former self.

Under former leader Lucien Bouchard and Gilles Duceppe, the Bloc managed a series of electoral triumphs between 1993 and 2008. Twice, in 1993 and 2004, it managed to win 54 of Quebec 75 seats in the House of Commons.

Speaking to party members on Saturday, Ouellet promised a return to those glory days.

"The Bloc is a phoenix," she said. "I really think that we are the beginning of something big, legitimate and important."

Martine Ouellet finished third in last year's PQ leadership race. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Former leader questions dual role

Gilles Duceppe was not at the meeting on Saturday morning. The former leader has publicly criticized the party's decision not to delay its leadership, which was seen to favour Ouellet's chances.

Duceppe was also critical of Ouellet's decision to remain a sitting member of the Quebec legislature. Though Ouellet is still an MNA, she left the PQ caucus to sit as an independent ahead of launching her campaign for the Bloc leadership.

Nevertheless, that puts her in the unusual position of leading a federal party but representing constituents at the provincial level.

In her speech, Ouellet sought to paint the federal Liberals as being out of touch with Quebecers. She accused the Liberals of maintaining cosy ties with the oil industry, and reiterated her opposition to TransCanada's Energy East pipeline project.  

She also called on the federal government to consult with Quebec before authorizing the sale of Quebec companies to foreign investors. 

"Ottawa decides on the sale of Quebec companies without consulting Quebec," she said. "Between now and the time we're independent, the bare minimum is that it be joint authorization."