Bloc Quebecois members meet to discuss party's future amid leadership crisis
Newly acclaimed Bloc Quebecois leader Martine Ouellet salutes supporters during a rally in Montreal on Saturday, March 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
DRUMMONVILLE, Que. - The Bloc Quebecois' embattled leader fended off a challenge from her rivals on Sunday as party members adopted her timeline for an early June confidence vote.
The two-day vote on Martine Ouellet's leadership will begin June 1, along with a referendum on whether the Bloc should focus on promoting Quebec independence on a daily basis.
It will be decided on a 50 per cent plus one basis with the result announced June 3.
That proposal was challenged at Sunday's party meeting by 42 riding associations, who had suggested a mid-May confidence vote with no referendum.
They also proposed that Ouellet should have to obtain 75 per cent of the vote to stay on as leader.
Tensions were running high on Sunday morning as about 200 Bloc Quebecois members gathered for a meeting in Drummondville, Que., as the party seeks to turn the page on a crisis that has shaken the party over the last two months.
Seven of the party's 10 MPs resigned in February, citing Ouellet's leadership and her political priorities.
The MPs who stepped down accused Ouellet of constantly zeroing in on independence instead of defending Quebec's interests on the federal scene.
Ouellet has refused to resign despite criticism of her leadership style, which some have described as controlling and uncompromising.
Instead, the 49-year-old former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister has reiterated her belief that the crisis stems from an internal disagreement over what the Bloc's vision should be.
In a speech on Sunday, Ouellet accused the seven dissident MPs of promoting "fake news" against her and breaking with the party's "internal democracy.
"I can tell you that it isn't easy to live when you hear invented stories in the media, falsehoods that are repeated ad nauseum," she said
"At that moment, they caused a distraction and you saw the debate focused on my personality, my leadership style."
She also accused the dissenters of perpetuating U.S.-style politics and chided them for criticizing her focus on independence.
"For the resigners, to make a public debate to say they find their leader talks too much of independence - the leader of a separatist party - it's not very chic, it's a little embarrassing," she said.
But she ended with a call for unity, extending a hand to those who left because Quebec independence "is more important than our personal egos."
She also called on delegates to reconfirm the Bloc Quebecois' mission as a promoter of independence.