08/12/2011 05:00 EDT | Updated 01/17/2012 02:44 EST

Gilles Duceppe Replacement Delay To Determine How The Party Got Beaten So Badly


MONTREAL - A debate is brewing within the Bloc Quebecois about whether to delay the leadership race to replace Gilles Duceppe and instead spend a year studying what caused the party's electoral drubbing.

The only declared candidate in the race so far, former MP Pierre Paquette, withdrew his candidacy this week arguing the party needed to reflect further on its losses.

After having had a lock on the majority of Quebec's seats since 1993, the Bloc was reduced to only four MPs in the May election.

Paquette has been joined by one of the remaining MPs, Maria Mourani, in calling for more time before the party embarks on the process of choosing Duceppe's replacement.

"I am for a race next year, as late as possible," said Mourani, who hasn't ruled out running herself.

"I think members want to be consulted, and not through a small consultation."

The call for a delay doesn't sit well with interim party president Vivian Barbot.

The ex-MP said a consensus has rapidly formed within the Bloc that the party should continue to exist, despite rampant post-election speculation that it might disappear from Canada's political map. Any post-May 2 existential doubts that may have existed within the party, she said, were quickly discarded.

Now Barbot believes the best way to revive the Bloc is to find a new leader quickly.

Under the current timeline, a leadership race was slated to get underway this fall, with a new leader to be declared Dec. 11.

In announcing his decision to bow out of the contest, Paquette told Montreal's Le Devoir newspaper that "there is no urgency to hold this race, what's important is to have a reflection."

With Paquette now out of the race, there is no obvious front-runner to take over from Duceppe.

Paquette hasn't ruled out running if a leadership convention is delayed to next year. He was attending his father's funeral on Friday and was unavailable for comment.

Barbot expressed skepticism that there was a real desire within the party to see the contest pushed back.

The rebuilding process requires a new leader with a strong mandate, she said.

"We are in a transition period made necessary by a bitter defeat that no one saw coming, so it's true that we need to examine what we're doing," she said. "But we need legitimacy to do this work."

The party has scheduled a meeting in September to finalize the rules of the leadership race. If there is significant opposition to the current timeline then, Barbot said, the party is open to alternatives.

In the meantime, the Bloc will hold a series of consultations with its members during the final weeks of August.

Barbot said it will give supporters a chance to voice opinions about what went wrong in the May election and where the party should be headed.

"We want to see if what we saw is really what the people saw as well," said Barbot.

That isn't enough for Mourani. She wants a much more ambitious consultation process, one that goes beyond listening to party apparatchiks and riding officials.

After years of strong -- some would say strong-armed -- leadership under Duceppe and Lucien Bouchard, there is an emerging sentiment that the Bloc needs to forge a closer relationship with its members.

"I think what's missing in the Bloc Quebecois is an anchoring in the party's base," Mourani said.

"The Bloc Quebecois needs to become a party of its members, where the members define its vision."

Mourani also sought to discredit an idea floated by one party activist that the next leader simply be acclaimed, instead of going through a long and potentially messy leadership contest.

"The Bloc has always crowned its leaders," she said. "It's high time that the members chose one... We're not a monarchy."

Along with Mourani, there has been much speculation surrounding Jean-Francois Fortin, the only new Bloc MP to be elected in the May election.

Aides say Fortin is "reflecting" about whether to throw his hat into the race.