OTTAWA — Maxime Bernier has a message to the seven MPs who quit the Bloc Québécois en masse Wednesday: join the Conservative Party of Canada.
Bernier, a former Conservative leadership hopeful, extended the invitation to the newly independent MPs saying his party is a good fit for those who don't see eye-to-eye with Bloc leader Martine Ouellet.
"If they believe in a strong Quebec in a united Canada, they will come in our party," Bernier told reporters. "If they want to fight for Quebec interests and the interests of all Canadians, they will come in our party."
The Beauce MP said the dramatic exodus shows that Quebec separatism has become niche. Bernier said Quebecers want lower taxes and for the federal government to respect the Constitution.
Michel Boudrias, Rhéal Fortin, Simon Marcil, Monique Pauzé, Louis Plamondon, Luc Theriault, and Gabriel Ste-Marie announced their decision to leave the Bloc behind after the party's caucus meeting in Ottawa. They will now sit as Independents.
I think that the future is behind them.Maxime Bernier
Their coordinated departures show the once-powerful separatist party is now facing a "huge crisis," Bernier said. "I think that the future is behind them."
Now-former Bloc MP Fortin maintained that he and his colleagues are still sovereigntists, and that their problem squares on the leader and not the party.
Fortin called sovereignty the "best thing" that could happen for Quebec.
"I don't think the Bloc Québécois is dead. We're still members of the Bloc Québécois and we believe that the Bloc Québécois has an important duty to do here in that Parliament."
Ouellet told reporters the issue was discussed briefly during the party's caucus meeting before the seven MPs left the room.
"The door is open (for the seven to return) and it will always be open," she said. She was adamant she won't be stepping down, despite her party's obvious discord.
"I am staying on as leader. I was elected by the members of the Bloc Québécois and they're the people who gave me the mandate."
Ouellet does not hold a federal seat. She currently sits as an Independent in the Quebec National Assembly.
There are now three Bloc MPs who remain in caucus.
Confidence in leadership shaken since summer
It's been widely reported that Ouellet, who has been in the Bloc leadership role for almost a year, has been facing challenges in gaining and maintaining caucus members' confidence.
Last year, HuffPost Quebec reported that Ouellet's own chief of staff had allegedly conspired to damage the reputation of one of the party's MPs by leaking information about him and his former employer.
Symptomatic of the party's current disarray, the Bloc lost its house leader earlier this week after Gabriel Ste-Marie said he couldn't work with Ouellet.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the Bloc's blues an opportunity for the newly Independent MPs to meditate on how they can serve their communities.
Trudeau told reporters in French that seeing support for sovereignty wane over the years — since the Bloc's peak in 1993 when it became the Official Opposition after winning 54 seats — is a "a good thing" for the federalist cause.
When asked by reporters if he has plans to extend the same invitation as Bernier, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh sidestepped the question.
There's a process in place for those who want to be a party member, Singh said. He added he's proud of the gains his party has made in the province.
"We've got 16 MP's," he said. "I've got our Parliamentary leader beside me who is from Quebec and will continue to raise the issues that matter to the people of the province."
With files from The Canadian Press
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