Gilles Duceppe lands a new role with Parti Quebecois government

QUEBEC – The former leader of the Bloc Quebecois, Gilles Duceppe, appears to have landed a government job two years after he lost his last one in a historic electoral drubbing.

He is being appointed by the pro-independence Parti Quebecois provincial government to lead a commission whose role will be to fight the feds over changes to skills training.

Duceppe led the Bloc through six federal elections, with some resounding successes, until the sudden and spectacular wipeout in 2011 where his party nearly disappeared and he lost his own seat.

Now the provincial government has confirmed he’ll be one of the people appointed to key roles in its so-called “sovereigntist government” strategy, more details of which will be released next week.

“If there’s anyone who knows the federal system well, who’s had the chance to debate about it, to discuss it, to defend the interests of Quebec, it’s certainly Gilles Duceppe,” Premier Pauline Marois told the legislature Wednesday.

“I believe he’s one of the most competent possible people to do this job, because we believe it’s important to continue to make the case on behalf of Quebec’s workers.”

The appointment drew a heated reaction from the opposition benches — and an icy one from Ottawa.

The on-the-record response from the federal government was diplomatic: The Harper Tories said they want to negotiate with the provinces to put skills training in the hands of workers and businesses, and they intend to negotiate with Quebec.

More quietly, however, they were conveying a less-than-enthusiastic reaction to news that their former foe would be turned into a federal-provincial interlocutor.

“It’s hard to imagine Mr. Duceppe would be in good faith in his dealings with us,” said one federal official, who requested anonymity.

The reaction was a little more heated on the opposition benches in Quebec City.

The Liberals described Duceppe as an “agent provocateur” who would sabotage relations with the rest of the country, instead of building productive ties.

The Liberals’ parliamentary leader, Jean-Marc Fournier, said it hardly sends a constructive signal to appoint “the best-known separatist in Canada” to that particular role.

Fournier noted that Quebec, Ontario, and B.C. share a similar viewpoint on skills training — so, given that these provinces represent 75 per cent of the country, why not work together to twist arms in Ottawa?

“Instead of working to build some leverage across Canada, the Parti Quebecois government has decided to dip into the public purse to pay for a Gilles Duceppe election tour,” Fournier said.

The Coalition party also called it a partisan nomination, designed to “offer a job” to help smooth over an old leadership rift between Duceppe and Marois.

The recent federal budget announced plans to shift some of the worker-training responsibility, and cash, away from the provinces toward a new program funded by three parties — the provinces, businesses and the federal government.

In Quebec, where provincial governments tend to jealously guard their jurisdictions, the premier has said she won’t “budge an inch” in helping Ottawa set up the program. She says the province’s own model has been working fine, and views the new one as counter-productive.

The new Canada Job Grant training program, announced in last week’s budget, has drawn a more positive response from oil-producing Western provinces whose energy industries need workers.