June 10, 2015 / 5:41 PM / 5 years ago

Quebec political veteran returns to head separatist party

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Gilles Duceppe, a veteran advocate for the independence of Quebec, said on Wednesday that he came out of retirement for the separatist cause and to give the French-language province a strong voice during Canada’s federal election in October.

Gilles Duceppe (L) and Mario Beaulieu smile during a news conference to announce Duceppe's return to federal politics as leader of the Bloc Quebecois, in Montreal June 10, 2015. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

Duceppe, who quit politics in 2011 after losing his Montreal seat during a federal election, is taking over the reins of the separatist Bloc Quebecois party from Mario Beaulieu.

Even though it fields federal candidates in just one province, the Bloc was once a major force in Canadian politics, becoming the largest opposition party in the 1993 election. A rebound in its fortunes would siphon critical votes away from rivals, particularly the New Democratic Party.

Duceppe led the Bloc from 1997 to 2011, garnering between 38 and 54 seats in all but the last election. That year the party, which is often criticized as representing an aging demographic, was reduced to just four seats after losing key votes to a surging NDP.

Duceppe told reporters at the Bloc’s Montreal office that the October election would be an “important moment” for the party.

After Beaulieu became leader in June 2014, two Bloc members of Parliament resigned from the caucus, leaving it with just two. Duceppe said he would present a younger team, fielding at least 10 candidates under 35 years old.

“I invite the members who left us to return,” Duceppe said.

Duceppe said he also spoke with and has the support of Pierre Karl Peladeau, the Canadian media mogul who heads the province’s separatist Parti Quebecois.

The Bloc only participates in federal elections, while Parti Quebecois is only involved in provincial races.

Taking aim at the NDP, Duceppe said the party has not done enough to represent the needs of Quebecers.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair told reporters in Ottawa that Quebec voters wanted to move forward. “They don’t want to play as extras in ‘Back to the Future.’”

As a federal party, the Bloc itself cannot bring about Quebec independence, since only the provincial Quebec government can mount a sovereignty referendum.

The pro-Canada Liberal Party was elected in the Quebec provincial election last year with a four-year mandate. In the 2018 election, the Liberals are expected to face a challenge from the separatist Parti Quebecois under Peladeau.

Additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Lisa Von Ahn

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