And then there were two. That’s how many of the 10 MPs elected under the Bloc Québécois banner in 2015 still support Martine Ouellet in her agonizing bid to hang on to her leader’s job.
Seven of them defected earlier this year. On the weekend, Mario Beaulieu became the eighth MP to declare he had lost confidence in Ouellet’s leadership. He is considering whether to resign his position or wait for the result of a leadership review vote to be held in early June.
Beaulieu’s defection is a major loss for Ouellet. He was instrumental in paving the way for her to take the party’s helm last year.
Anyone else in her position would have surrendered to pressure to bow out by now. But then anyone else would also agree that for a leader to have a minimum of moral authority, he or she needs the backing of more than a simple majority of the party’s membership.
This weekend she doubled down on her contention that any result over 50 per cent would be good enough for her.
For Ouellet, there will be no happy ending to this saga. If she loses the upcoming confidence vote, she will be banished to the sidelines of the sovereignty movement. If she wins, she will be left to lead a party that has become little more than an empty shell. After having failed to secure enough seats to be recognized as an official party in the House of Commons in two elections in a row, it is not as if the Bloc was in a robust state to start with.
More than a few of its remaining members will vote with their feet if they fail to vote her out in June.
The seven members of the breakaway caucus announced that they are no longer contemplating a return to the fold for as long as she remains at the helm. Their plan B could see them try to woo some Quebec New Democrat MPs into joining them in a new parliamentary group devoted to the exclusive promotion of the province’s interests.
Ouellet has little support among those who represented the party in the House over the nearly three decades of its existence. Former leaders Gilles Duceppe and Daniel Paillé have publicly called for her resignation. She spent part of her speech to the party’s national council last weekend castigating Duceppe.
On Monday, the Bloc’s youth wing issued a statement of support for Beaulieu; it has opted to remain neutral on the matter of Ouellet’s continued leadership.
Meanwhile, money is becoming a scarce commodity. The Bloc used to pool its MPs’ budgets to fund its leader’s office. With most of the caucus gone, there is little funding left to operate it. If Ouellet gets to stay on, some of the remaining dollars will have to go to her salary.
Over her first year in the top Bloc job, she has been collecting a paycheque as a member of the National Assembly. That will end with the Oct. 1 provincial election.
With every passing day, the odds are becoming higher that whoever leads the BQ in next year’s election will have the dubious honour of turning the lights off on the party.
Even if Ouellet is forced out in June, she will have dug the Bloc in a hole so deep that her successor may need levitation powers to lift its flagging fortunes.
The crisis has taken a toll on the party’s standing in voting intentions. Its support hovers around the 10 per cent mark, down from almost double that number in the New Year.
But NDP and Conservative hopes that their sovereigntist rival’s demise would help level the playing field with the Liberals in Quebec have so far not materialized.
A Mainstreet poll published last week pegged Justin Trudeau’s party at 47 per cent in Quebec and its lead on the second-place Conservative party at 25 points. In the prime minister’s home province, the decline of the NDP is a gift that keeps on giving for the Liberals.
The first test of the evolving Quebec dynamics will come when a federal byelection is held in Chicoutimi-Le Fjord later this year.
In 2015, the Liberals won the seat with a slim 600-vote majority over the NDP, with the BQ running a competitive third at 21 per cent. The Conservatives ran fourth with 17 per cent of the vote.
Trudeau has to call that byelection by June 2 and, if he wants the seat filled before the Quebec campaign really gets underway, the federal vote will have to be held before Labour Day.
Chantal Hébert is a national affairs columnist.