Former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe has shut the door on a speedy return to politics and a run for the leadership of the sovereignty movement, making it clear to his inner circle that he has yet to recover from last spring's electoral drubbing.
Mr. Duceppe tried to clear the air in a letter to Pauline Marois on Tuesday, going further than he has in the past to staunch speculation that he's leading a backroom putsch against the embattled Parti Québécois Leader.
In the wake of a poll showing that he could lead the PQ to victory in the next election, Mr. Duceppe faced growing pressures to replace Ms. Marois, whose leadership of the PQ has been hurt by months of infighting and slumping popular support. In the letter, Mr. Duceppe said he might eventually work alongside Ms. Marois, but added he is far off from jumping back into the public eye.
"I do not feel ready, at this point, to return to active politics," Mr. Duceppe wrote.
A member of Mr. Duceppe's inner circle added the former leader of the Bloc recently came to grips with the fact that he has yet to recover from the near obliteration of his party – and the loss of his own seat – on May 2. The key point came ahead of a PQ brunch last month where all the media attention centred on Mr. Duceppe's appearance.
"He was going well until he understood that being alongside Ms. Marois, there would be a bunch of reporters and that everyone would parse through everything he said. He felt the pressure coming back, and he just hated it," the former Bloc official said.
Mr. Duceppe has undergone a few one-on-one interviews in recent months, but he would be unable to return under the media spotlight any time soon, his former aide said.
"He still hasn't recovered all of his strength."
In his letter, Mr. Duceppe sent a message to sovereigntists that he will not be used as part of the campaign to undermine Ms. Marois.
Bloc and PQ officials hope that without a successor waiting in the wings, hard-core sovereigntists will stop trying to bring down Ms. Marois.
"I neither condone nor encourage any questioning of your leadership," Mr. Duceppe said in the letter to Ms. Marois. "On the contrary, as I have told you in private and in public, I hope that you will lead the Parti Québécois to victory in the next elections."
Party organizers hope that the letter will help diminish concerns over Ms. Marois's leadership.
Ms. Marois said it was now clear that Mr. Duceppe was not a leader-in-waiting as some PQ members had anticipated, adding firmly that she had no intentions of stepping aside any time soon.
"I was glad that he wrote the letter because that is what he had told me [privately] But some of you remained skeptical. So now he has stated it. And I can assure you I did not call to ask him to write it," Ms. Marois said.
Although Mr. Duceppe may have taken himself out of the picture, Ms. Marois's leadership still remains on a short lease as dissent within PQ ranks remains unresolved. More PQ caucus members have recently called for her resignation. And last week, a PQ riding association in Laval was poised to table a motion calling on Ms. Marois to step down.
The motion was to be debated at the PQ party meeting that was scheduled to be held on Dec. 3-4, 2011. But the meeting was postponed until late January on the pretext that the party wanted to focus all of its efforts on winning the by-election in the Gaspé riding of Bonaventure that will held on Dec. 5.
The by-election may become another test for the PQ Leader, even though the riding has been a Liberal stronghold for all but four of the past 55 years. A poor showing by the PQ would likely place Ms. Marois once again on the hot seat and Mr. Duceppe could again emerge in some PQ circles as a possible successor.
Some PQ members still question Ms. Marois's ability to overcome the rising popularity of former colleague François Legault, whose Coalition-Avenir-Québec (CAQ) was officially recognized last Friday as a political party by the province's chief electoral officer.
Mr. Legault will launch his party in Quebec City on Monday and immediately begin negotiations with the Action Démocratique du Québec on a possible merger of right-of-centre political forces in the province.
In a letter to ADQ members on Monday, party leader Gérard Deltell said that if the talks are successful, a merger could take place in early 2012.
"Now it is time to talk and see whether we can merge or not," Mr. Deltell said. "Many of the policies Mr. Legault is proposing are ADQ policies."
Public opinion polls have shown that a CAQ-ADQ merger would allow Mr. Legault to sweep the province in a general election, crushing Ms. Marois and the PQ in his path.