SAINT-HYACINTHE, Que. — The Conservative Party of Canada announced Saturday it had recruited former Bloc Quebecois leader Michel Gauthier, as the party continues its efforts to make inroads in Quebec.
Gauthier told a meeting of the federal party's Quebec wing that he had concluded that "there was never a conflict of jurisdiction with the governments of Quebec," under the Conservative governments led by Stephen Harper and Brian Mulroney.
"It's the political party that's the closest to Quebec nationalists, the most sensitive to Quebec," he said as he arrived at the general council meeting in Saint-Hyacinthe, about 60 kilometres east of Montreal.
"And it's also a new party, with a new leader, a new team a new program, and a new government," he said. "And I want to work for that."
The former MP said he's no longer a sovereigntist and believes the Conservative party is the best one to serve Quebec's interests.
Gauthier was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993 and led the Bloc Quebecois from 1996 to 1997 at a time when the party formed the official Opposition.
He continued to occupy a prominent role in the party before leaving politics in 2007.
He said he won't run in the next federal election, but will lend a hand to the party's candidates in Quebec.
The announcement follows the resignation of seven of the Bloc Quebecois' 10 MPs, who quit the sovereigntist party in February over differences with leader Martine Ouellet.
It also comes as the Conservative party, which is hosting its first national council in Quebec, has been reaching out to members of other parties as it seeks to grow its presence in the province.
In a speech Saturday, former Conservative cabinet minister Lawrence Cannon, who has also served as Canada's ambassador to France, invited party members to "extend a hand" to NDP sympathizers as well as members of other political formations.
"Our party will never be a sovereigntist party or a socialist party, but it should always be an open party," he told the general council.
One of those being courted by the party is the well-known mayor of Trois-Rivieres, Yves Levesque, who said Saturday that he was seriously considering whether to make the leap to federal politics.
But Brigitte Sansoucy, the current NDP MP for the Saint-Hyacinthe region, said she wasn't intimidated by the Conservative troops landing on her doorstep, nor was she convinced that the party had changed under the leadership of Andrew Scheer.
"What I see in the House, every day, is the same Conservative party that we saw during the 10 years of Harper, the same positions," Sansoucy said.
"Again this week, it was blatant," she said, referring to a Conservative Manitoba MP who caused an uproar in the House when he called out that abortion was not a right.
Tories won 12 Quebec seats in 2015
Scheer has said he is personally against abortion, but has promised he won't reopen the debate if he is elected prime minister — similar to the approach taken by Harper.
The Conservatives jumped from seven to 12 seats in Quebec in the 2015 election, despite Harper's unpopularity.
To boost that number in 2019, Scheer has made several visits to the province as part of a promotion strategy that included an appearance on the popular French-language TV show "Tout le monde en parle."