Gilles Duceppe took all of five minutes to run through the history and victories of the party he led has led for 11 years before announcing he was stepping down as leader of the Bloc Québécois. “I respect the choice and I assume the responsibility in the name of the Bloc Québécois,” Duceppe said serenely. “As a result, I’m quitting my functions. In the next few days, the party’s leadership will figure out what happens next.”
It will be a rough hangover for Bloc supporters tomorrow morning. Having lost official party status, the Bloc is now in for a reckoning—official “long walk in the snow” territory, to borrow a line from the Bloc’s First Nemesis, Pierre Trudeau.
The handful Bloc MPs with a job will go to Ottawa as orphans: Duceppe, the party’s first elected MP and the leader of the party since 1997, fell to the NDP. So too did its parliamentary leader Pierre Paquette, along with campaign organizer Mario Laframboise. Ditto Deputy Leader Christiane Gagnon. Good lord, even Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the NDP’s unilingual Anglophone candidate who spent a good part of the campaign sunning herself in Las Vegas, bowled over longtime Bloc candidate Guy André.
Duceppe arrived from his hotel to a room only three-quarters full, and a party that felt like a wake than anything else. At 11 o’clock, with only two Bloc MPs elected, the sparse crowd barely looked up from their beers as losses came in. (They did manage to boo like hell when Justin Trudeau’s victory was announced, however.)
“Politics is an extreme sport,” said Vivianne Barbot who, despite having lost to Justin Trudeau in Papineau, was one of the few people still managing a smile. “I didn’t see it coming.” Asked to comment on the loss happening in front of her, Barbot chuckled. “You’re watching it just like me.”
There was some cold comfort in the room, as a group of Bloc faithful knew that many of the now-jobless Bloc MPs would decamp for Québec City. The Parti Québécois just recently dusted off its sovereigntist raison-d’être at its convention and will need help selling it to Quebec in the next provincial election, expected in the next two years. And Duceppe echoed the sentiments of many in the crowd when he said the NDP represented “the last chance for a federalist party to do something concrete for the nation of Quebec.”
Duceppe left the stage to cries of “On veut un pays!” (“We want a country!”) He then slowly walked out of the room, hugging everyone in site. “We are really in shit,” a young Bloquiste with tears in her eyes told a friend as Duceppe exited the room.