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A wave of resignations swept through the Parti Québécois Tuesday with three party stalwarts, two of whom are in PQ fortress ridings, announcing plans to retire from politics at the end of the current mandate, which is in nine months

QUEBEC — The good news is they all did it on the same day, which means the painful exercise is over and done with.

The bad news is that when you’re a party languishing in third place in public opinion with an election 10 months away, it reinforces the impression the ship is taking on water in a hurry and the crew is in a mad dash for the lifeboats.

A wave of resignations swept through the Parti Québécois Tuesday with three party stalwarts, two of whom are in PQ fortress ridings, announcing plans to retire from politics at the end of the current mandate, which is in nine months.

Now, there is an argument to be made in justifying the departures of two of them. Pointe-aux-Trembles MNA Nicole Léger and Taschereau MNA Agnès Maltais have both been in the political meat grinder for about 20 years.

Maltais’s retirement has been rumoured for months. As the lone PQ MNA in the Quebec City region, she faced a tough battle in 2018 to keep her seat in the face of a rising Coalition Avenir Québec.

“I’m burnt out,” Maltais, 61, told reporters called to her riding office in the St-Roch quarter of Quebec City. “My body is sending me signals. I can’t be a 92-per-cent Maltais. Less than 100 per cent is not my style.”

“It’s time to pass the torch,” said Léger, who grew up in the shadow of one of Quebec’s big political names, her dad, Marcel Léger — one of the first seven MNAs elected by the PQ in 1970. “It’s a personal decision.”

She insisted that despite the rumours the party wants her riding for a star candidate in the person of Jean-Martin Aussant, the former leader of Option nationale, nobody pushed her out.

An economist and sovereignty hardliner who quit the PQ when Pauline Marois was leader and refused to hold a referendum, Aussant is now working as executive director of the Chantier de l’économie sociale.

And Léger, who had a battle with tongue cancer in 2005, added she is feeling fine, too.

“My health is very good,” Léger said. “At 62, you can still do a lot of things.”

But the decision by Lac-St-Jean MNA Alexandre Cloutier, a two-time leadership candidate who lost to Pierre Karl Péladeau and Jean-François Lisée, to pack it in at age 41 raised eyebrows.

As one observer noted, Cloutier might have mustered a bit more energy to keep up the fight if the party was higher in the polls and his chance of once again becoming a cabinet minister in a ruling government was better. 

That’s not what happened. Instead, Cloutier argued politics is no longer what it used to be and he wants out. Nasty partisan motivations, the new absolute that is to ‘win the day’ every day whatever the cost, saps your soul and kills initiative, he said at a news conference in Alma.

That explains why he started to have trouble facing the idea of getting into his car every Monday to drive all the way from Alma to Quebec City and join in the daily exercise in mudslinging the National Assembly has become.

Politics is a life at 200 kilometres an hour, he said, and it can’t be done, in his words, “on cruise control.”

“My enthusiasm, especially when I set out to cross la Réserve faunique des Laurentides to get to Quebec City, has crumbled,” said the Cambridge-educated constitutional lawyer.

“Frankly, I’m fed up with petty Quebec City games.”

On the other hand, Cloutier said it’s impossible to say at his age that he is done with politics for good.

“Politics is in my veins,” Cloutier said.

Left holding the bag Tuesday was Lisée, who attended two out of three of the news conferences (the PQ brass was unaware Cloutier was going to throw in the towel until the last minute).

The saving grace for Lisée is that none of the dearly departed blasted him or his leadership.

At the Maltais news conference, Lisée had an answer at the ready for those who said three departures (and possibly another three or four to come) in one day are a sure sign all hell has broken loose in the party and the PQ is doomed.

He invited pundits and social media doomsayers to revisit their opinions in the coming weeks when as many as eight Liberal MNAs are also expected to announce they, too, will not run again for various personal reasons.

“If the media use the word (disaster) when three PQ MNAs leave, what will it be when eight Liberals go,” Lisée asked. “I am curious.”

He added that January — especially January in an election year — is often the month for such decisions to be announced and all this has very little to do with the party standing or his leadership.

“For me, it’s a gesture of respect,” he said, noting it gives his party plenty of time to seek new candidates and prepare. “It’s the right time for people to announce their colours.”


Back in October 2016, the newly elected Parti Quebecois leader Jean-Francois Lisee, right, is greeted by PQ MNA Alexandre Cloutier. Cloutier was defeated by Lisee for the PQ leadership bid the week before.
Jacques Boissinot /

THE CANADIAN PRESS

As for Aussant making a possible return to politics and maybe mounting a leadership challenge against him, Lisée was not showing any concern.

In fact, there is speculation Aussant could help Lisée woo back sovereignists who have fled the PQ to Québec solidaire because of Lisée’s decision to shelve a referendum. 

“The door is open,” Lisée said.

Also hovering in the wings in these times of PQ trouble is Péladeau, who has said in public he misses the political game now that he is back in the business of being the Quebecor media king. Many have noticed he has become increasingly active in social media during the last few months.

Lisée, however, had a rebuttal for those who said the PQ is headed for a crushing loss in 2018.

“The ability to underestimate the PQ is immeasurable,” Lisée said. “Being the underdog in this campaign is fine with us.”

But other departures are in the wings. PQ dean François Gendron, who has represented Abitibi-Ouest since 1976, will probably confirm in February he will not seek another term. Gendron is now 73 years old.

On his Facebook page Tuesday, Gendron — who has been elected 11 times — said “it’s entirely true that I have started a period of reflection,” but did not confirm a Le Devoir report he is done with politics. 

It’s no secret that Bertrand PQ MNA Claude Cousineau has also decided to not run again, but he has not announced it yet.

And Rousseau MNA Nicolas Marceau is also mulling over the decision to pull the plug. A former PQ Finance minister, Marceau is bored to tears in the Opposition and could easily resume a life teaching.

A wave of departures is also expected in the Liberals. Three Quebec City MNAs — André Drolet (Jean-Lesage), Raymond Bernier (Montmorency) and Michel Matte (Portneuf) — might not run again given the strength of the CAQ.

The same can be said about Saint-Laurent MNA Jean-Marc Fournier, Côte-du-Sud MNA Norbert Morin and Westmount—Saint-Louis MNA Jacques Chagnon. Chagnon is speaker of the National Assembly.

Officials in the CAQ said Tuesday that to their knowledge, none of their MNAs are planning to leave.

On Wednesday, Lisée will try to get the PQ back on track by announcing Nathalie Leclerc, daughter of famed singer-songwriter-poet Félix Leclerc, will be the PQ candidate in the riding of Charlevoix—Côte-de-Beaupré.

pauthier@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/philipauthier

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