MONTREAL — In a bitter, resentful and defiant speech, Martine Ouellet announced Monday she will step down as head of the Bloc Quebecois in the wake of a crushing defeat in a leadership vote where she collected 32 per cent support.
Ouellet, 49, has been leader since March 2017 and said her resignation will take effect June 11.
She called the Quebec independence movement "sick'' and said it is full of internecine warfare.
"My principal conclusion is that the main obstacle to the realization of the republic of Quebec comes from within the sovereigntist movement,'' she told reporters. "It's not normal; the movement is sick.
"If all the energy that was deployed toward small internal fights ... was deployed to the realization of the republic of Quebec — I am convinced that today, (independence) would be a done deal.''
It's not normal; the movement is sick.Martine Ouellet
The Bloc has been in disarray since late February when seven of its 10 MPs quit over Ouellet's leadership style.
Of the three who remained, only two still backed her heading into the weekend leadership vote.
The dissenting MPs accused Ouellet of talking about independence at all times instead of working to defend Quebec's interests within the current parliamentary system.
Ouellet wanted to bring up sovereignty as the answer to all files, despite the fact support for an independent Quebec remains low in the province and has been for years.
The tension within the Bloc highlighted the fact its members remain deeply divided on the purpose and future of the party.
About 59 per cent of the party's estimated 14,500 members took the opportunity to have their say by telephone or online in a two-day vote that ran Friday and Saturday.
While members rejected Ouellet's leadership, they appeared to support her vision of a party that is centred around independence above all else.
Some 65 per cent of voters approved the idea of the Bloc supporting Quebec sovereignty in its daily actions and promoting it at every opportunity.
But the result on her leadership was unequivocal, with more than two-thirds of voters saying she had to go.
Former leader Gilles Duceppe publicly denounced Ouellet after the seven members departed in late February, saying she didn't know how to get along with others and that she should resign.
The work of a sovereigntist party in Ottawa is not to improve the Canadian system — it's to leave it.Martine Ouellet
Ouellet spoke directly to her detractors, arguing the purpose of a pro-independence party in Ottawa is to fight the federal system — not support it.
"The work of a sovereigntist party in Ottawa is not to improve the Canadian system — it's to leave it,'' she said. "The fact I talk of independence all the time ... it bothers people. It bothers our opponents, the federalists, which is normal.
"But it also bothers some sovereigntists — that's not normal.''
The seven ex-Bloc MPs who quit are in the process of forming a new party they hope to call Quebec debout (Quebec standing up), and their spokesman, Rheal Fortin, said they would react to Ouellet's resignation on Tuesday.
Monday was "Ouellet's day,'' Fortin said.
Neither Fortin nor his colleague, MP Michel Boudrias, would say whether Ouellet's announcement will induce the seven to return to their old party.
"What is important is to create a favourable climate regarding a discussion about an eventual reunification, regardless of the form,'' Boudrias said. "I can't guarantee the next steps, but I am willing to do my part.''
Ouellet spoke for roughly 30 minutes before announcing — through tears — her decision to step down.
The embattled Bloc leader said she was the victim of leaks in the media, sabotage, and "a slew of unimaginable personal attacks over the last three months.''
She accused party president Mario Beaulieu of running a "negative, aggressive, denigrating and intimidating'' campaign against her.
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And Ouellet didn't spare Duceppe, saying the ex-leader worked to reverse the democratic decisions of Bloc members.
Ouellet said she isn't done in politics and will keep fighting for Quebec sovereignty.
"Rest assured,'' she said. "I will continue. Nothing is finished for me.''
Ouellet remains a member of Quebec's legislature as an Independent after leaving the Parti Quebecois caucus to seek the Bloc leadership.
She told reporters Monday it "isn't planned'' that she seek re-election in the Oct. 1 provincewide vote.
With files from Mylene Crete in Ottawa
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