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Gilles Duceppe returns to lead Bloc and counter the NDP's 'orange wave'

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe speaks at a news conference in Montreal.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Gilles Duceppe is back in the ring, the heavyweight who has been knocked down but feels he can win at least one more fight.

As the 67-year-old emerged from retirement on Wednesday and confirmed his return as the Leader of the Bloc Québécois, his moves were familiar. As he regularly did from 1997 to 2011, he resorted to a few sports analogies, quoted Yogi Berra and attacked his federalist rivals for putting the interests of Canada ahead of Quebec's.

Mr. Duceppe has obviously not forgotten the defeat that forced him into retirement, when Quebec voters switched their support en masse to Jack Layton and the NDP. Hit by cancer and walking with a cane, but always smiling, Mr. Layton was the shifty adversary that Mr. Duceppe couldn't seem to hit.

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"Let's say it was a bit difficult to attack someone in that condition," Mr. Duceppe said in an interview.

He still feels that the judges somehow picked the wrong winner on that historic date of May 2, 2011.

"I adhere to the adage that the people have every right, including the right to be wrong," Mr. Duceppe said. "We always have to respect the people's democratic choice, even if we disagree."

Mr. Duceppe retired that evening more than four years ago, a victim of what became known as the "orange wave" that reduced the Bloc to a four-seat rump in the House. Having lost his own seat, Mr. Duceppe did not show up at the next day's traditional post-electoral news conference.

The former union negotiator could be excused for appearing somewhat rusty as he reemerged as a party leader on Wednesday: His comeback bid only started last week, one day after sovereigntist stalwart Jacques Parizeau died.

On June 2, the rookie leader of the Bloc, Mario Beaulieu, sat down for lunch with Mr. Duceppe and asked him to take his job. At a news conference alongside his successor, Mr. Beaulieu said he was "running out of time" to organize the party ahead of the Oct. 19 general election, touting Mr. Duceppe's "experience and public profile."

Mr. Duceppe initially rejected the request, but said he couldn't ignore the fact it came directly from Mr. Beaulieu. Mr. Duceppe started consulting his family, friends and advisers from his old days in the Bloc, some of whom agreed to come back at his side.

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He decided to take the plunge after a meeting at the home of Pierre Karl Péladeau last Saturday, stating he received the Parti Québécois Leader's "unwavering support."

The Bloc has been struggling in the polls under Mr. Beaulieu, in addition to facing deep internal divisions that saw the departure of two MPs elected under the party's banner in the 2011 election. At the news conference, Mr. Duceppe dismissed the notion that the Bloc was launching a Hail Mary pass, in reference to a high-risk football play used by desperate teams.

"I have never seen a team start a game with a Hail Mary, never," he said. "The best way to start is make a good analysis of the other team and to know what kind of first play you will do."

Asked about his hopes for the next election, he paraphrased Mr. Berra to state he doesn't like "to make predictions, especially about the future."

However, Mr. Duceppe made it clear that his main rival is Thomas Mulcair, who replaced Mr. Layton as NDP Leader in 2012.

"Every time he had to choose between Canada and Quebec, he defended Canada," Mr. Duceppe said in the interview. "Never has Quebec been so weakly represented in Ottawa."

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After a caucus meeting in Ottawa, Mr. Mulcair seemed eager to take on the sovereigntist foe, as if going against the experienced Mr. Duceppe allowed him to showcase his own moves.

"Quebeckers don't want to play extras in Back to the Future IV," Mr. Mulcair said. "We want to replace Stephen Harper, that is our objective. The Bloc's objective is to replace the NDP."

Mr. Duceppe said his return as Bloc Leader was approved by the executive of the party this week, but still needs to be ratified at a meeting of the party in July.

He added he has yet to pick the riding in which he will run. What is certain is that in addition to going toe-to-toe with Mr. Mulcair, Mr. Duceppe will have to try to knock down a sitting NDP MP on Oct. 19.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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