Politics

Gilles Duceppe preparing comeback as leader of Bloc Québécois

Former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe is preparing to come back as the party's leader, just in time for the 2015 election campaign. The surprise news broke as a who's who of the Quebec sovereignty movement gathered in Montreal for the state funeral of former Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau.

Defeated in 2011 election, former BQ leader considered strong debater, has 'extraordinary credibility'

Gilles Duceppe's political career ended with his party's crushing defeat at the hands of the NDP in the 2011 election. Now the veteran campaigner is poised for a comeback. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe is preparing to come back as the party's leader, just in time for the 2015 election campaign, Radio-Canada has learned.

The surprise news broke as a who's who of the Quebec sovereignty movement gathered in Montreal for the state funeral of former Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau.

Until Tuesday, Duceppe was thought to be only assisting and advising current leader Mario Beaulieu on the upcoming campaign. Beaulieu does not currently have a seat in the House of Commons.

On Facebook Monday, Beaulieu wrote that he'd asked Duceppe to contribute to the party, and Duceppe "to his delight" had accepted his proposal. Duceppe's exact role was yet to be discussed, he said then.

The pair are scheduled to hold a press conference together at 10:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday at the party's Montreal headquarters. Until then, they will not comment further in order to respect the national mourning and memory of Parizeau, the party said.

Pollster prompted meeting

Radio-Canada's Daniel Thibeault reports Beaulieu consulted a pollster, who predicted the Bloc could not get more than 20 per cent of the vote in Quebec under his leadership. (It got 23 per cent in 2011, translating into only four seats.)

Under Duceppe, the pollster suggested, the party could win almost 30 per cent of the popular vote.

Beaulieu realized he couldn't boost the Bloc's popularity and asked to meet with Duceppe. They met the same day and the final deal was worked out Monday night, sources told Thibeault.

The party executive is expected to hold a teleconference Tuesday evening to discuss rule changes to facilitate Duceppe's return. The roles of "leader" and "party president," currently both held by Beaulieu, could be split: Duceppe would run for the former and Beaulieu would keep the latter.

Although not official until approved by the party's general council, it's thought to be a fait accompli.

It's unclear in what riding Duceppe would run.

Defeat a 'blip'

Duceppe had both criticized and expressed support for Beaulieu's leadership on various occasions.

Duceppe, who was first elected as a Bloc MP in 1990 served as leader for 14 years, was a strong campaigner who distinguished himself in past election debates.

Veteran BQ MP Louis Plamondon told reporters covering question period on Monday that Duceppe's presence and participation in the approaching campaign would be a "big plus" for the sovereignty movement. 

In French, he also said Duceppe has "extraordinary credibility with all Quebecers."

He downplayed the BQ's crushing defeat in Quebec in the 2011 election, when it was reduced from 47 seats at dissolution to only four, losing official party status in the process. He called it a "blip" and said the Bloc is still needed in Ottawa. 

Those losses were not a rejection of the BQ, Plamondon said, but an expression of sympathy for Jack Layton's NDP. 

The party will have nominated 40 candidates by the end of June, Plamondon said. He expressed optimism about a comeback.

Before its 2011 collapse, the Bloc's worst showing in the province was 33 seats. If the BQ could even approach that figure in the fall, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's hopes of governing in 2015 would suffer a significant blow.

"It's a new campaign.  Those who must be very worried now are Mr. Mulcair, Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau," said former BQ MP Daniel Turp, who now advises Parti Quebecois leader Pierre-Karl Peladeau. 

"Now Quebecers will realize that Mr. Mulcair didn't deliver, didn't do much," Turp said.

Comeback possible after infighting?

Defections and departures over policy differences have left the BQ with only two seats, and of the two that remain, only Plamondon intends to run for re-election.

Beaulieu's hardline approach to sovereignty has alienated soft nationalist support for the party and has cost both MPs and members.

The party's vice-president, Annie Lessard, left late last year over personality differences.

Last October, former BQ leadership challenger Jean-François Fortin joined forces with a New Democrat to create a new party, Forces et Démocratie, that will field candidates this fall. The new party focuses less on sovereignty and more on better representation for Quebec's regions in Ottawa.

Fortin called Beaulieu's leadership approach divisive and radical.

Ex-BQ MP Maria Mourani, who parted company with the sovereignty movement during the debate over Quebec's secular charter and will run for the New Democrats in 2015, reacted with surprise to Tuesday's news. She said in French that the priority of Quebecers was not to live in the past.

Another former BQ MP, Andre Bellavance, now sits as an Indpendent and has said he will not run again.

Duceppe was rumoured to be interested in a jump to provincial politics and had been courted to lead the Parti Québébois. But he never followed through to actually run for the leadership.

In 2012, he insisted he was finished with politics, federal or provincial.

"I'm sure that if Mr. Parizeau was still alive... he would be very happy to know that Mr. Duceppe will be the leader of the Bloc Quebecois again," Turp told CBC News.

With files from Daniel Thibeault, Steve Rukavina

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