QUEBEC — The reeling Parti Quebecois suffered its fifth caucus defection in two weeks on Tuesday when backbencher Benoit Charette resigned over concerns a PQ government would hold a sovereignty referendum.
Charette, 34, said he had been contemplating his future for a long time and that his decision was not related to the departure of four of his colleagues earlier this month.
Quebecers have been turning away from the PQ over the last 15 years, Charette told a news conference in Quebec City.
The backbencher indicated he had failed to get assurances the PQ would not hold a sovereignty referendum in its first mandate upon returning to power.
“I think that would be the best thing the party could do to show it is listening to the wishes of the population,” said Charette, who has represented the Montreal-area riding of Deux-Montagnes since 2008.
“It’s my inability to reform the party on this point that has led me to leave, without bitterness. When an individual no longer feels at ease in a group, it is up to that person to go.”
The PQ was stunned on June 6 when three influential members stormed out of the party in a direct challenge to the leadership of Pauline Marois.
The three included Lisette Lapointe, the wife of former premier Jacques Parizeau, still a hero to PQ hardliners more than 15 years after he quit politics.
The others were Pierre Curzi, an actor-turned-politician considered the party’s most popular member; and Louise Beaudoin, an ex-cabinet minister who acted as the PQ’s international envoy, building relationships with foreign governments and other nationalist movements.
They all promised to continue fighting for sovereignty while sitting as Independents.
The three defectors said the final straw was a PQ-sponsored private member’s bill aimed at blocking any lawsuit against a financial arrangement over Quebec City’s proposed arena.
All three said they didn’t appreciate that the party imposed the legislation on them, forcing them to support it without consulting them about first.
Their announcement was followed the day after by the resignation of Jean-Martin Aussant, who blasted Marois for her go-slow approach to sovereignty.
Charette was much more conciliatory toward Marois, saying the party’s problems are not her fault.
“To blame Pauline Marois and her inner circle for the lack of enthusiasm for the Parti Quebecois is the wrong analysis,” he said.
“Quebec voters began distancing themselves from the Parti Quebecois more than 15 years ago.”
Charette’s move leaves the Opposition PQ with 47 members in the 125-seat national assembly, compared with 65 for the governing Liberals.
There are eight Independents, four Action democratique du Quebec members, and one member of Quebec solidaire.