MONTREAL — More than 20 former Bloc Quebecois MPs called on party leader Martine Ouellet to step down Friday, in a letter published in a Montreal newspaper accusing her of being intransigent and weakening Quebec's voice in Ottawa.
Meanwhile, the Bloc's national office will hold a meeting Saturday to discuss the fate of seven of the party's 10 MPs who quit the caucus earlier in the week, citing Ouellet's poor leadership style.
The letter, co-signed by ex-Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe, says Quebec's status is feeble within the Canadian federation, with a pro-Canada premier in Quebec City and an "intransigent" and divisive Bloc leader in Ottawa.
"We understand how seven MPs left the party," reads the letter published in Le Devoir. "Martine Ouellet weakens Quebec's voice in Ottawa at a time when it needs a strong voice.
"She divides sovereignists at the moment when they need to be united. She has to go."
Ouellet, who doesn't have a seat in the House of Commons but sits as an Independent in Quebec's provincial legislature, has signalled she will not go.
A source in the Bloc told The Canadian Press Ouellet's hand remains extended to the seven departing members and she is ready to welcome them back to the party.
The source said it's unclear if the 12 members of the party's national bureau will take a final decision on whether to expel the seven dissident MPs and revoke their memberships on Saturday or whether talks will continue after that time.
A spokesperson for the Bloc said Ouellet wouldn't react publicly to Friday's letter before Saturday's meeting.
The defections of 70 per cent of the party's caucus reflect an internal struggle in the party that has been going on for some time.
Party insiders say the tension is between those who aggressively want to pursue Quebec independence by bringing it up at every occasion, versus those who want to focus on files concerning Quebec's interests in Ottawa.
Louis Plamondon, who has been a Bloc MP for the last 25 years, is among the seven who quit the caucus.
Since Ouellet won the leadership, she gave most of the responsibilities in the party to the three "most radical" MPs, he said during an interview.
An example of her style, he said, is how she reacted to the news Quebec's shipyard wouldn't be getting another federal supply ship contract, while billions of taxpayer dollars went to other shipyards in the country.
Plamondon said Ouellet told the workers "you know, if we were independent from Canada there would be no problem with constructing supply ships."
"That's not what workers want to hear," he said.
"You have to respond to their preoccupations. And then explain why federalism serves Quebec badly. Her strategy is pure independence. Independence, independence, independence."
Plamondon said he doesn't know what will happen Saturday, because many of the people sitting on the national bureau were recruited by former party leader Mario Beaulieu, who is one of three MPs who supports Ouellet.
"But all the newspapers, the pundits, the editorial writers, are against her," he said. "We said we would stay in the party but leave caucus. She will want us out. We'll see how it goes."
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press