The 29-hour candidate's gall

Duceppe's PQ pullout renders him roadkill

PQ - le couronnement de P. Marois, vu par la presse canadian

OTTAWA - On the bright side, it will finally replace that cheese factory hairnet photo taken during the 1997 campaign as his greatest gaffe.
But Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe's spectacular flip-flop over the weekend -- turning from accused backstabber to trembling backtracker in a Parti Quebecois leadership race he helped orchestrate -- will render him fresh roadkill in the blood sport of politics.
He will be mocked. And deservedly so. His name will scream farcical indecision for being a one-day wonder who expected a crowning but had to run away from a clobbering by a two-time leadership loser who had yet to officially enter the race.
Jaws dropped around Ottawa on the weekend as word spread that the sovereignty movement's Ottawa guardian had so badly misjudged his own appeal in the motherland, his candidacy went stillborn after just 29 hours.
Consider the bizarre sequence of events.
Saturday, May5 PQ leader Andre Boisclair warns Mr. Duceppe to back off from undermining his leadership and vows to stay on as leader.
Wednesday Mr. Boisclair quits and Mr. Duceppe pays contrived homage to the fallen leader while refusing to discuss his candidacy.
Friday Mr. Duceppe rushes to declare his PQ leadership ambitions to pre-empt the Sunday declaration by potential rival Pauline Marois. He sends out columns to Sunday newspapers outlining his vision for Quebec as the future leader.
Saturday A poll emerges pegging him at less than half the PQ support for Ms. Marois. Mr. Duceppe abandons the race, citing the need to unify the party.
Now they say a week in politics is a lifetime, but for a guy to help create a vacancy, rush to fill it and run for cover all in the space of 72 hours is a cycle of life, death, resurrection and reconsideration of almost biblical proportions.
Quebec newspaper letters pages were delivering scathing reviews on Mr. Duceppe's decision yesterday -- buffoon, chicken, weakling, you get the idea.
Today, the returning leader will grovel before his MPs, the same group that urged him to seize the moment and kick butt in Quebec City, and try to spin his decision as a personal sacrifice for the greater good of united sovereignty.
While his explanation has appeal in a separatist movement desperately in need of rebonding, it's a Duceppe reputationkiller ranking right up there with the time Peter MacKay won the Progressive Conservative leadership on a written promise NOT to merge with the Canadian Alliance -- and went to work two weeks later to make it happen.
It will, of course, open up plenty of opportunities for Ottawa rivals to exploit. It might be almost too easy for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is expected to hand the rubbing of salt into Mr. Duceppe's fresh wounds to ministers enduring Bloc questions this week.
Then again, this is a Prime Minister who finds it difficult to resist the cheapest of shots when his victims are bleeding credibility -- so Mr. Duceppe would be well-advised to steer clear of questioning Mr. Harper's flipflop- filled performance unless he wants to play the role of fish up for a shooting inside the Commons barrel.
The Conservatives would have preferred to bid final adieu to Mr. Duceppe. As a caucus control freak second only to Mr. Harper, he has not allowed new leadership contenders to develop who might make the other parties nervous. And as a solid campaigner, Mr. Duceppe was considered an obstacle to Bloc seats simply falling into Conservative hands.
But if he's not going, the Conservatives can at least relish an opponent weakened by a serious loss of personal face inside his party and suffering the indignity of being rejected as premierworthy by his own movement.
Mr. Duceppe has a pair of tenuous lifelines to reel in before his leadership goes terminal. There are three Quebec federal byelections on tap this fall. If he can prevent the two Bloc seats from falling--as expected--into Conservative hands, it will show his party has lingering strength.
And if more than 80% of the delegates at October's Bloc policy convention endorse his leadership, he can claim to have the party limping along behind him.
Neither looks promising at this stage although, like all things associated with Quebec politics, everything is subject to change within in a week. But trying to seize the PQ leadership before lining up support or researching his allure to party members was a gallingly cheesy move for Gilles Duceppe.
And this time he's wearing cheesy on his resume, not just on his head.

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