06/22/2011 05:24 EDT | Updated 01/17/2012 02:44 EST

Parti Quebecois Holds Emergency Meeting As Members Quit


THE CANADIAN PRESS -- STE-CATHERINE-DE-LA-JACQUES-CARTIER, - The Parti Quebecois is holding an emergency caucus retreat where the agenda for discussion includes the party's very survival.

The gathering comes as the PQ finds itself torn in two directions — with several hardcore sovereigntists quitting and, this week, another departing member who says its independence plans should be shelved.

The PQ had been coasting atop the polls before the rash of resignations. Now, it suddenly faces an existential crisis.

Bernard Drainville, a prominent PQ member of the legislature, says this is not the time for the independence movement to splinter into separate groups.

The party's longest-serving member, Francois Gendron, entered today's meeting reminding reporters of all the things the PQ had accomplished in its four-decade history.

But another member offered a hint of ongoing turmoil. Claude Cousineau said he will stay with the party — "for the moment" — but added that many people will use the summer to "reflect."

Throughout its history the PQ has withstood tension between its hardline and more moderate factions, but the threat is especially acute this time.

Some of the more hardcore, or older, members are losing patience with its go-slow approach to achieving independence.

On the other hand, the party faces threats on its opposite flank.

Polls have suggested a yet-to-be created party — led by former PQ minister Francois Legault — might steal some of the PQ's support by promising a moratorium on independence referendums. There is speculation that some elected members could also jump ship to a new party.

Leader Pauline Marois has faced some criticism from the departing members but most have not attacked her personally.

At least one departing MNA has declared she would not be the person to lead Quebec to independence. And, on Wednesday, Drainville said it might be a good idea for the PQ to start highlighting the rest of the team more.

Meanwhile, a man always seen as a potential successor to Marois — ex-Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe — made a rare public appearance Wednesday.

Duceppe has not spoken much to reporters since suffering a stinging setback in the May 2 federal election.

In an interview with Radio-Canada, he issued a call for the party to remain united.

He also warned that if Quebec does not achieve its independence within the next 15 years, it will find itself on the same slide to assimilation as other French-Canadians and Acadians.