MONTREAL — Gilles Duceppe is back at the helm of Bloc Quebecois and says voters in the province need to side with a federal party that will put their interests first.
Duceppe told a news conference on Wednesday that Quebec’s voice in Ottawa has weakened under the NDP and only a strong Bloc presence can change that.
“We are better represented when we’re represented by people thinking like us,” Duceppe said at Bloc headquarters in Montreal. “Democratically elected and speaking the way we want them to speak, defending the interests which are our interests.”
The veteran politician faces the monumental task of getting the moribund political party ready for the upcoming federal election in a matter of months.
Duceppe, 67, takes over for Mario Beaulieu, whose tenure was marked by strife within the party.
But Duceppe made it clear it was about working with Beaulieu and not pushing him aside.
Duceppe noted the party is in good financial shape, has 20,000 members and an association in all 78 Quebec ridings, although only about one-third of candidates have been selected.
“The gesture we’re making today isn’t Duceppe replacing Beaulieu, it’s Duceppe joining Beaulieu and the team in place and those who will come,” Duceppe said. “We’re adding, we joining together and we’ll move forward together.”
Duceppe invited sovereigntists of all stripes to rally under the Bloc banner.
Beaulieu, a hardline sovereigntist who was previously head of the Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montreal, won the Bloc leadership race nearly one year ago.
He concluded he was running out of time with this fall’s federal election looming.
Enter Duceppe, who Beaulieu said will give the Bloc campaign an experienced leader and a name recognition he simply didn’t have.
“I came to the conclusion that we needed to give new breath to the Bloc campaign,” Beaulieu said. “I’m convinced that with Gilles Duceppe as leader, we are headed towards a new victory for the Bloc.”
Beaulieu will stay on as party president.
Duceppe said he decided to come back after a discussion with Parti Quebecois Leader Pierre Karl Peladeau, who assured him the PQ is ready to provide the Bloc with support.
He reprises a role he held for 14 years.
Duceppe became leader in 1997 and under his stewardship, the party won 44, 38, 54, 51 and 49 seats before the 2011 meltdown.
The party won a mere four seats that year as Jack Layton’s NDP roared through the province.
Among the casualties included Duceppe, who lost the Montreal riding he had held since winning a byelection in 1990.
Duceppe said he hasn’t chosen a riding in which to run as yet.
The Bloc currently has just two MPs out of 75 in Quebec.