PQ in disarray as hockey arena bill iced

The turmoil within the Parti Québécois deepened Tuesday, including harsh criticism levelled at leader Pauline Marois, as a fourth member of her caucus stepped down from the party.

Controversial law doomed as 4th Parti Québécois MNA quits

Jean-Martin Aussant gets emotional as he announces he is leaving the Parti Québécois to sit as an independent. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The turmoil within the Parti Québécois deepened Tuesday, including harsh criticism levelled at leader Pauline Marois, as a fourth member of her caucus stepped down from the party.

Marois is under fire for supporting Bill 204, which would shield a deal between Quebecor Media and the City of Quebec over the management of a proposed hockey arena from any future lawsuits.

Marois approved the private member's bill – sponsored by PQ member Agnès Maltais – without consulting her caucus.

On Tuesday, she admitted having "made an error right from the start."

"In four years, it's the first time I did not consult them," Marois said in French after a special caucus meeting Tuesday morning, adding she is surprised at how quickly the arena bill issue escalated among her members.

Marois defended attacks on her leadership, telling reporters she is far from being "drunk with power" despite what her former caucus members say. "I have no inclination for that."

The issue of Bill 204 became moot Tuesday afternoon, as Premier Jean Charest announced he wouldn't invoke closure on the legislation before the national assembly breaks for summer.

Charest said the legislation would be revisited in the fall.

Promising PQ member quits

Divisions within the PQ escalated as rising party star Jean-Martin Aussant announced Tuesday morning he was leaving the party to sit as an independent, effective immediately.

PQ Leader Pauline Marois admits she erred in handling the arena bill controversy. ((Canadian Press))

A teary Aussant told reporters he entered politics to change how things are done, but Marois's leadership and a lack of a clear path to sovereignty have disappointed him.

"If she wants sovereignty to come quick, I think someone else would do a better job," Aussant said.

The member for Nicolet-Yamaska, who was first elected in 2008, was blunt about his reservations regarding Marois.

"I'm here to work on sovereignty, and I don't think she's the one Quebecers will want to follow, at a very high rate, toward sovereignty," he said.

"That's a very cruel statement. It's a hard one to say. It's probably a hard one to hear, from them, but that's what I think."

When asked whether she should resign, he replied: "I'm not one for double-speak, so, yes."

Aussant's resignation makes him the fourth Péquiste in two days to ditch the party.

Three prominent MNAs — Louise Beaudoin, Pierre Curzi and Lisette Lapointe — quit suddenly on Monday to sit as independents, citing proposed legislation dealing with a future Quebec City arena as one of their main concerns.

They also declared they could no longer work with the party and remain loyal to their personal convictions.

Liberals ask for arena deal deadline delay

Charest sidelined the arena legislation Tuesday, announcing he would not invoke his power of parliamentary closure to push it through the national assembly.

Three veteran PQ members resigned Monday, while rising star Aussant waited until Tuesday to announce he's leaving the party to sit as an independent. ((CBC))
Debate over Bill 204 will resume in the fall, when the Liberal government is expected to introduce an omnibus bill on municipal affairs.

Charest urged the mayor of Quebec City and Quebecor to rethink their September 7 deadline to close the multimillion-dollar arena deal.

Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau responded with a statement that said the media company would still work to bring an NHL arena to the province's capital, but the prospects of that happening are diminished.

"The optimal conditions for ensuring the return of a National Hockey League team are no longer aligned and the extra delays could compromise the ultimate objective," Peladeau said.

With files from The Canadian Press