MONTREAL — New Bloc Quebecois leader Daniel Paille came out swinging in his first few moments on the job Sunday, blasting both the Conservative government and the NDP as he vowed to rebuild his shattered party.
Paille targeted the NDP in a speech after winning the Bloc leadership, accusing New Democrats of failing to stick up for Quebec since they displaced his party as the province’s dominant federal force in last May’s election.
The separatist Bloc is the only party that can truly represent the interests of Quebecers, Paille said.
“Quebec voted for change in the last election . . . and they got change,” Paille said shortly after learning he won the leadership.
“But they never voted to take the Quebec nation backwards. Never.”
Paille also criticized the Harper Conservatives, whom he once did work for, attacking their environmental policies and tough-on-crime agenda.
Paille beat out current MPs Maria Mourani and Jean-Francois Fortin, winning 61 per cent of the vote on the second ballot on Sunday. A few hundred people were on hand for the announcement at a downtown hotel.
Paille’s first foray into politics was as a minister on the provincial stage with the Parti Quebecois in the 1990s under Jacques Parizeau.
In a strange twist, Paille, 61, was first brought to Ottawa for a post under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, before joining the Bloc Quebecois.
Soon after the Tories took office, in 2007, they hired Paille as an independent investigator to look into contracts handed out by the previous Liberal government.
The move did not work out exactly as planned. Paille concluded that not only should there not be an inquiry into the past government, he accused the current one of spending an “astounding” sum on polls.
Soon after, Paille became involved with the Bloc.
He won a 2009 byelection in the Montreal east end riding of Hochelaga and became the party’s finance critic before losing his seat this spring.
For years the Bloc was powerful force in the House of Commons under longtime leader Gilles Duceppe but it was reduced to four seats in this year’s election.
By all indications, Paille will have his work cut out for him in reviving the party.
Bloc membership has slumped since last May, the leadership race generated little attention, and support for the separatist movement appears to be on the wane.
More than a quarter of the party’s 53,000 members didn’t renew their $5 membership card and couldn’t vote for the new leader.
Less than 40 per cent of the party’s remaining members — about 14,000 people — sent in their mail-in ballots.
Paille signalled Sunday that he will focus on the party’s grassroots. rather than arm-twist one of the party’s remaining MPs to step aside so he can run in a byelection.
“The benefit is I will be a full-time leader,” he told reporters. “I will go to see everybody in Quebec, every riding, every executive, and I will have the time.”
Louis Plamondon, a veteran Bloc MP, said the party will now work toward a major party congress in two years.
“I think people were waiting for a leader,” he said. “I’m sure (Paille) will give spirit and motivation to a lot of members now.”