In a 1990 by-election, he became the first sovereigntist MP elected in Ottawa under the banner of the BLOC QUÉBÉCOIS. Also that year, he was a replacement member for the Bélanger-Campeau Commission. In 1991 and 1992 he was a member of the national executive of Mouvement Québec. Within the Bloc Québécois he took office as party speaker for Indian Affairs, Multiculturalism, National Defence, Veterans' Affairs, Labour, Employment, Immigration, and for the Status of Women. In September 1993 he was re-elected MP for Laurier-Sainte-Marie, and became the opposition whip. Following Lucien BOUCHARD's departure in 1996, Gilles Duceppe became the interim leader of the Bloc and opposition leader, before being named House leader of the Official Opposition.
On 15 March 1997, Gilles Duceppe succeeded Michel Gauthier as leader of the Bloc Québécois. On 2 June 1997 he was re-elected MP for Laurier-Sainte-Marie and his party took 45 of the 75 Québec seats in the House of Commons. The Bloc's popularity decreased in the subsequent 2000 election, elected in only 38 ridings.
In 2004, however, the Bloc gained popularity in the wake of the Liberal sponsorship scandal, securing 54 of the 75 seats in Quebec. In 2006, a reinvigorated Conservative party, led by Stephen HARPER gained support in some areas of Quebec. Though the Bloc secured 51 seats (and 43% of the popular vote) the results in 2006 were a letdown for Bloc supporters who had hoped to achieve 50% support from Quebecers. In 2007, Duceppe made the surprising decision to run for provincial politics as the leader of the PARTI QUEBECOIS. (Though he had been offered the chance in 2005, Duceppe felt the separatist cause in Quebec would be better served if he remained the federal Bloc leader.) The following day Duceppe reconsidered his options and decided not to run. Rather, he placed his wholehearted support behind candidate Pauline Marios. He was eagerly welcomed back by the Bloc with nearly 95% of the party's support.
Duceppe maintained his political mandate leading up to the 2008 election. During his 4th term as leader he pressured Harper to address the fiscal imbalance that exists between the provinces and, in particular, Quebec. In addition, he petitioned the prime minister recognize Quebec as a nation and he stood firm to prohibit cuts to cultural programs in the province. His platform leading into the election centered on Quebec's ability to deal with its own culture and economic stability, and its own approach to the penal system and the system's young offenders. On October 14 Duceppe secured his 5th term as party leader, calling the Bloc's 51 seats a victory "toward real progress," and he credited the party as the main factor in preventing a Conservative majority government.
Mere weeks following the general election Harper's Conservative government launched a series of controversial economic proposals, stirring the three opposition parties - the Bloc, the Liberals and the NDP - to begin talks of a coalition intended to bring down the Conservatives in a vote of non-confidence. On December 1 the three party leaders signed an historic accord, intending to introduce a non-confidence motion as early as the following week. Ultimately, Harper's request to prorogue government was granted by Governor General Michaelle JEAN and the durability of the coalition became questionable.
Duceppe, with his 11 years as Bloc leader, is the longest-serving leader of Canada's existing federal political parties.
Author JEAN CHARTIER Revised: MYRIAM FONTAINE
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Political Parties and Leaders
Profiles and related data about past and present leaders of Canadian political parties. From the Parliament of Canada website.
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