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Pauline Marois digs in: 'I'm here to stay,' she tells PQ

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois responds to reporters’ questions as she leaves a special party caucus meeting at the legislature in Quebec City on Oct. 26, 2011.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois emerged from a three-hour caucus meeting late Wednesday determined to remain in her job and lead her party in the next provincial election.

Ms. Marois' leadership has become a source of concern for some caucus members who fear that the party was headed for certain defeat if not outright obliteration in the next Quebec election expected next year.

But Ms. Marois came-out of the meeting convinced she had averted another crisis and was determined to push forward in her quest to win the confidence of voters.

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"I'm here to stay. I will be there for the next election. I had a really good caucus meeting," Ms. Marois said.

Party president Raymond Archambault also attended the meeting and confirmed that despite some dissident voices in caucus, the vast majority of caucus members supported their leader.

"There is a clear majority in favour of Madam Marois," Mr. Archambault said.

Earlier in the day, the PQ held a first meeting to debate the leadership issue. As they entered the meeting under a barrage of media questions, several MNAs declined to stop and defend Ms. Marois. The most loyal Marois supporters, such as Nicole Léger, refused to comment. No one was willing to confirm that the party was on the cusp of another major crisis.

Five members quit the PQ caucus last spring triggering an internal party crisis from which Ms. Marois has never fully recovered.

Public opinion polls repeatedly showed support for Liberal Premier Jean Charest's government was in constant decline. But Ms. Marois has been unable to capitalize on her opponent's misfortunes.

According to recent polls, three out of four Quebecers disapprove of the way Mr. Charest has governed the province. Yet the PQ and the Liberals remain neck and neck far behind former PQ minister François Legault's yet to be formed political party.

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"The latest polls show that we've hit rock bottom. The only way left to go is up," said PQ caucus member Claude Pinard. "Sure people are nervous. The Liberals are at 20 per cent, we are at 18 per cent and (Mr. Legault's) party that isn't even formed yet gets 48 per cent ... but we still have time ahead of us."

Caucus members are taking stock of the demise of the Bloc Québécois in last May's federal election and fear the same fate may be awaiting their party if nothing is done soon.

Party members are also nervous and concerned that if Ms. Marois doesn't step down soon, the PQ will be doomed to an ugly fate.

" It's like being coach of the Montreal Canadiens. If they lose all the time at some point you have to get rid of the coach," said Claude Lessard president of the Mauricie PQ riding association.

The new "coach" some PQ members are eyeing is former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, who has so far denied he was waiting in the wings for a return to politics.

But the PQ remains unsure whether a new leader would make a difference against a popular yet undeclared rival such as Mr. Legault, who has been recruiting candidates and raising money in preparation for the Nov. 14 launch of his new party.

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As soon as the party is formed at least a half dozen sitting members of the National Assembly could join his ranks. This would give the new political formation the visibility it needs in the media heading into the next election campaign that some of Mr. Legault's handlers predict could come as soon as next spring.

MNAs likely to join the Legault party are currently sitting as either independents or with the Action Démocratique du Québec, which may decide to merge with the new party. And there is nothing stopping the Legault camp from trying to persuade other MNA's from both the Liberal and PQ camp to jump ship to join his party.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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