Without the prospect of an imminent return to power to hold it together, the Parti Québécois looks as though it's starting to unravel.
Yesterday, a spokesman for the party's legislative wing confirmed that Diane Lemieux of the PQ will resign her seat in the National Assembly "at the resumption of proceedings" Oct. 16.
Lemieux, who wasn't available for comment yesterday, was reported to be furious at being informed by new party leader Pauline Marois last Friday that she was being demoted from her position as PQ house leader, or debating captain, in the Assembly.
Lemieux's official resignation will allow the PQ to make history, though in an unenviable way.
She will become the second PQ MNA to quit since the election last March 26 (unless former leader André Boisclair, who is pondering his future, beats her to it and makes Lemieux the third).
Already gone is Rosaire Bertrand, who vacated his seat last week so that Marois, who became party leader in June, could enter the Assembly in a by-election.
When Lemieux (or Boisclair, if he goes first) officially quits, it will be the first time since 1960 that two members of the same party have resigned their seats in the Assembly so soon after a general election.
If Boisclair does step down before or at the resumption of the session, it will be the first time since Confederation that a party has lost three Assembly members to outright resignation within seven months of a general election.
And judging from reports that Bertrand wasn't the only MNA to offer his seat to Marois, some others among the 35 remaining PQ members (the count includes Lemieux and Boisclair) are looking for an excuse to get out, too.
When they ran last March, it was for seats in the government, or at least the government-in-waiting that is the official opposition. It was not for the seats farthest away from the Assembly president at the back of the chamber, an area known as the "chicken coop," to which the third party is relegated.
And it was not to sit as representatives of a party that is financially broke and whose share of the total vote has declined steadily in the last three elections to reach its lowest point since 1970.
Now the party also appears to be in danger of splitting into factions, even before Marois begins to act on her promise to change the PQ program to de-emphasize sovereignty and take the party to the right.
Yesterday, former PQ MNA Jean-Pierre Charbonneau told Radio-Canada that Marois replaced Lemieux with François Gendron as house leader because Lemieux didn't get along well with other party members. He described Lemieux as "very authoritarian" and the cause of "a lot of dissatisfaction, animosity and frustration" in the party caucus.
But Lemieux was also closely identified with Boisclair, and did not seem to welcome the arrival of Marois as leader with enthusiasm.
And coincidentally or not, Lemieux is the second prominent Boisclair supporter to be replaced by Marois, who lost the leadership to Boisclair only two years ago.
Two weeks ago, the PQ announced that its director-general, Pierre-Luc Paquette, was being replaced. Not only had Paquette been in charge of the party's losing campaign for the March election, he had run Boisclair's successful campaign against Marois for the leadership in 2005.
The by-election to fill the vacancy left by Lemieux's resignation in the east-end Montreal riding of Bourget will be a test for Marois - and perhaps for Mario Dumont of Action démocratique du Québec as well.
The ADQ was shut out of Montreal in the general election, but replaced the Liberals in second place in Bourget. It remains to be seen whether Lemieux's resignation will hurt the PQ, but the party's supporters often don't bother to vote in by-elections anyway.
So the by-election could be an opportunity for the ADQ to establish a toehold in Montreal. And a PQ defeat would be a blow to the third party's morale - and perhaps to Marois's leadership as well.
PQ MNAs run wild without the discipline of power
With little hope of improving fortunes in the short term, some want to jump ship