MONTREAL – It’s familiar territory for Gilles Duceppe. After meeting with his 10 newly-elected Bloc MPs Thursday morning, the humbled leader announced he was quitting as head of the Bloc Quebecois, for the second time.
“I am leaving with the knowledge of a job well done,” Duceppe said. “As sovereignists we have a duty to never, never forget our convictions.”
Duceppe admitted great disappointment that he failed to win his own riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie in Monday’s election, losing for the second time to the NDP’s Helen Laverdière.
Duceppe was brought back to lead the party last June, after then-leader Mario Beaulieu was seen as too hardline a language zealot, and was forced to step aside.
At the start of the election campaign, polls indicated the Bloc were going to be wiped off the political map. They had no money, and virtually no media following. They were forced to heavily rely on the Parti Quebecois for help.
But the campaign turned around for Duceppe when he started hammering away at the issue of women wearing niqabs during Canadian Citizenship ceremonies.
Taking a page from Stephen Harper’s playbook, Duceppe said he would force women to remove their veils for those ceremonies, and even went further, saying he would move to ban civil servants from being allowed to wear them.
The issue galvanized some Quebecers who’ve struggled with reasonable accommodation of immigrants, and saw a bump in the polls for Duceppe.
Despite Duceppe losing his seat, some Bloc strategists were satisfied with Monday’s result.
The party won ten ridings – a huge improvement on the four it won in 2011. Analysts, however, say the Bloc will have a tough time in Ottawa, and the reality is that the party is in a difficult situation.
The Bloc needed to win 12 seats to get official party status. Without it, the party will have limited resources and money. And on election night, fewer than 20 per cent of Quebecers voted for the Bloc, their worst showing ever.
“People have moved on from the Bloc’s agenda for sovereignty in Quebec,” said political analyst L. Ian MacDonald. “They have always been a party of grievance in Ottawa. They have problems getting on the same page where the voters are.”
Another blow to the sovereigntist movement came Thursday morning, when longtime Chicoutimi PQ MNA Stephane Bedard abruptly quit politics. He announced his surprise departure in the National Assembly. Bedard said after 17 long years, he wanted to spend more time with his wife and two children.
“Today, I am bowing out,” he said. ““I don’t know what the future may hold, but I have to take a break.”
But Bedard wasn’t happy when PQ leader Pierre Karl Peladeau pushed him aside as Parliamentary leader last month, in favour of Bernard Drainville. Observers believe it shows divisiveness within the party, and that other defections are to come.
MNAs were quick to react to Bedard’s departure, saying it would hurt the PQ.
“I think it’s a vote against this project of sovereignty,” said CAQ leader Francois Legault. “I think Mr. Bedard is seeing – like Mr. Duceppe – the sovereignty of Quebec will not come in a short term.”
WATCH BELOW:François Legault claims the sovereigntist movement in crisis
“It’s a major blow for the PQ,” said Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau. “I am convinced of that and I think it’s a blow for the sovereigntist movement.”
Bedard said he will spend time with his family, and may return to his law practice. But Legault said he would welcome Bedard into this own party with open arms, if he was willing to put aside his sovereignist goals.