OTTAWA — Seven MPs who quit the Bloc Québécois in late February after clashing with their new leader announced Tuesday they are forming a new sovereigntist party.
"It's over, this adventure with the Bloc Québécois," declared MP Rhéal Fortin. "We are moving on to other things."
Fortin, standing alongside the six other former Bloc MPs, said the group would form its own political party in time for the 2019 election. The Bloc had shown itself to be useful, he said, from its inception under Lucien Bouchard to its years with Gilles Duceppe.
"This big party has always defended with vigour and without compromises the nation's interests, its culture and its aspirations."
"The problem," he told reporters, is Bloc Leader Martine Ouellet. "Ms. Ouellet is there, she changed ... the mentality or the interpretation of the mission of the Bloc Québécois, we have no other choice if we want to do our job correctly, with professionalism, with all of our heart. We have no other choice than to start another political party."
Ouellet, whose leadership style has been criticized as intransigent and controlling, has refused to quit despite a year-long internal rebellion on the Bloc caucus.
Fortin said the MPs were tired of waiting.
"Wait and wait ... Believe me we have tried and we realized after a year that there is no other choice than doing what we are doing now."
Ouellet is too focused on independence — a project these ex-Bloc MPs feel should be left to the Quebec National Assembly. Even if Ouellet is ousted in a June leadership review, Fortin said the new party will push forward.
'The Bloc is disincarnated ... it no longer exists'
Louis Plamondon, an MP since 1984 who followed Bouchard from the Progressive Conservatives to the Bloc's inception, was emotional as he spoke about the "nostalgia" he was experiencing.
"The Bloc rest heavily on my heart, I participated in its foundation, I know it required a lot of effort. But now I have the impression of restarting today a movement that is just as beautiful...
"Right now, the Bloc is disincarnated. I think it no longer exists, not in the minds of the electoral, nor in the minds of its members now."
The group is extending an olive branch to those in other parties — the Liberals, the NDP, the Conservatives — who might feel that they have to "shut their trap" out of fear of showing internal signs of division, Fortin said, or silenced in order to win votes "in the west, in Ontario or in the Maritimes."
Their new outfit will be unapologetically devoted to solely defending Quebec's interest, he added. "The Quebec nation will not be made in Ottawa but everyday she must be defended in Ottawa. It's what we've always done and what we will continue to do."
The ex-bloc MPs' announcement came two days after Ouellet won an internal battle during a party meeting in Drummondville, Que., keeping her job until a June vote on her leadership and a referendum on the direction she wants to take the party.
"At every crisis that we face, we drop in public opinion," Ouellet told Bloc supporters in a passionate defense of her leadership. "So, these seven quitters, what they have done, is they have caused us to drop, they have forced us to spend time on internal matters rather than time spent on promoting the Bloc Québécois."
The splintering of sovereigntist votes in Quebec could be good news for federalists. During the last federal election in 2015, the Bloc obtained 19 per cent of the votes cast in Quebec. The party has been on a downward trend since it obtained 49 per cent of the province's support in 2004 under Duceppe.
With fewer votes in 2015, it did win 10 seats, up from four in 2011. Now only three Bloc MPs remain, though Mario Beaulieu publicly declared Sunday he has no confidence in Ouellet.
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