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Gilles Duceppe, MP (born July 22, 1947) is a Quebec nationalist and social democratic politician in Canada. He is a Member of Parliament in the Canadian House of Commons and the leader of the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois. He is the son of a well-known Quebecmarker actor, Jean Duceppe. He was Leader of the Official Opposition in the Parliament of Canadamarker from March 17, 1997 to June 1, 1997.

Early life

Duceppe was born in Montrealmarker, Quebecmarker, the son of Hélène (née Rowley) and actor Jean Duceppe. His maternal grandfather was John James Rowley, a Britonmarker by birth. Duceppe's British roots had him once quip that "I’m a bloke who turned Bloc."

Duceppe's founding experience affecting his views on social justice occurred at the age of 12. He tells a story of an anglophone Grade 6 teacher slapping him after he complained about preferential treatment being given to anglophone students. Duceppe said that he slapped the teacher back. Duceppe became a sovereigntist at the age of 20, inspired by René Lévesque and the founding of the Mouvement Souveraineté-Association.

Duceppe studied political science at the UniversitĂ© de MontrĂ©almarker but did not complete his program of study. While attending UniversitĂ© de MontrĂ©al, he became the general manager of the school's newspaper, Quartier Latinmarker. Duceppe later earned a baccalaureate of collegiate studies from the Collège Mont-Saint-Louis. In his youth, he advocated communism, and held membership in the Workers' Communist Party of Canada. Duceppe later claimed that his three-year membership in the W.C.P. (Marxist Leninist) was a mistake brought on by a search for absolute answers. However, during this period â€” which lasted well into his thirties â€” he subscribed to militant Maoist ideology and was fired from his job as a hospital orderly for belligerent activities. Duceppe even went so far as to intentionally spoil his 1980 sovereignty-association referendum ballot arguing that QuĂ©bĂ©cois should instead focus their efforts on staying united to fight their common capitalist enemy. Before becoming a member of the federal parliament of Canada, Duceppe worked as a hospital orderly and later became a trade union negotiator.

In 1968 he became vice-president of the Union générale des étudiants du Québec (General Union of Quebec Students) and in 1970 manager of the Université de Montréalmarker student paper Quartier latin. In 1972 he launched his career in community and union settings, as moderator for the citizen's committee of Hochelaga-Maisonneuvemarker, then in 1977 as a representative for the Royal Victoria Hospitalmarker employees. In 1981 he acceded to the position of union organizer for the CSN (Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux or, in English, CNTU - Confederation of National Trade Unions), where he became a negotiator in 1986.

Election to Parliament

In 1990, Duceppe was elected to the Canadian House of Commons as an independent because the Bloc had not been registered by Elections Canada as a political party. All of the Bloc's other Members of Parliament had crossed the floor from either the Progressive Conservative Party or the Liberal Party earlier that year. Duceppe's victory in a by-election demonstrated â€” for the first time â€” that the party had electoral support in Quebecmarker and could win elections. Previously, many pundit (and members of other parties) predicted that the Bloc would not gain traction with ordinary voters in Quebec.

Leadership of the Bloc Québécois

Gilles Duceppe during a 2007 protest.
In 1996, when Lucien Bouchard stepped down as Bloc leader to become leader of the Parti Québécois, Duceppe served as interim leader of the party. Michel Gauthier eventually became the official leader later that year. However, Gauthier's lack of visibility in both Quebec and English Canada coupled with his weak leadership resulted in the party forcing him out in 1997. Duceppe won the ensuing leadership contest and became the official leader of the Bloc Québécois and Leader of the Opposition. As Leader of the Opposition, Duceppe was entitled to membership in the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, but he rejected it.

In the 1997 general election, the Bloc lost official opposition status, slipping to third place in the House of Commons behind the Reform Party.Of particular note during the campaign was a visit by Duceppe to a cheese factory where he was photographed wearing a hairnet resembling a shower cap. The photo became widely parodied on Canadian television.

The Bloc's caucus lost more support during the 2000 election, winning just 38 seats. Over this period, critics derided Duceppe as an ineffectual campaigner, though no serious challenge to his leadership emerged.

When Jean Chrétien stepped down as Prime Minister, to be succeeded by Paul Martin, the Bloc's fortunes improved markedly, particularly after the sponsorship scandal erupted. Duceppe strongly criticized the Liberals over the misuse and misdirection of public funds intended for government advertising in Quebec. During the election's national debates, Duceppe's lucid explanations of Bloc Québécois policies and his chastising of the other national party leaders' promises, resulted in both the French and English media ruling him the best speaker. In the 2004 election, Duceppe's Bloc won 54 seats in the Commons, returning the party to its all-time high water mark.

With Chrétien's departure, Duceppe became the longest-serving leader of a major party in Canada. With the recent success of the Bloc, and his recently well-received performance as leader, speculation mounted that Duceppe might seek the leadership of the Parti Québécois - particularly when Bernard Landry stepped down as party leader on June 4, 2005. On June 13, 2005, Duceppe announced that he would not run for the leadership of the PQ.

In the 2006 federal election, many Bloc insiders believed that Duceppe's popularity, combined with the unpopularity of the Liberal Party in Quebec, would push the Bloc Québécois over the symbolic majority vote mark among Quebec voters. Many Quebec nationalists felt that a strong performance by the Bloc in the 2006 federal election would boost the sovereignist movement and perhaps set the stage for a new referendum on secession after the anticipated Quebec provincial election expected in 2007. In actuality, a late surge in Conservative and federalist support kept the Bloc's share of the popular vote below 43% giving the Bloc only 51 seats. The unimpressive and lackluster results on election night has called into question the level of independance support in Quebec.

In the March 26, 2007 Quebec provincial election, the Parti Québécois found itself reduced to third place in the National Assembly of Quebec, behind both the governing Quebec Liberal Party and the opposition Action démocratique du Québec. Following this disappointing result, the PQ leader, André Boisclair, announced his resignation on May 8, 2007. Duceppe confirmed on May 11, 2007, that he would seek the PQ leadership but the next day he withdrew from the race. After his withdrawal, Duceppe announced that he would support two-time leadership hopeful Pauline Marois.

In the 2008 federal election, Duceppe led the Bloc Québécois to 49 seats, up one from its pre-dissolution standing of 48. However, the Bloc's share of the popular vote fell again, to 38%, its lowest result since 1997.

References

  1. SceneandHeard.ca
  2. CBC Montreal - Features - Gilles Duceppe
  3. globeandmail.com
  4. Duceppe, Marois will run for the PQ's top spot
  5. | Actualités | Cyberpresse
  6. Gilles Duceppe se retire - LCN - National


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