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Election 2000: The Leaders
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Gilles Duceppe: The Bloc enters a second decade

Globe and Mail Update

A former Communist, hospital orderly and son of a famous actor, Gilles Duceppe, 53, is still pursuing elusive Quebec sovereignty at the centre of Canadian federalism.

Gilles Duceppe When Mr. Duceppe arrived in Ottawa 10 years ago as the first Bloc Québécois member, after winning a 1990 by-election, the intense, blue-eyed leader said he didn't expect the Bloc to be on Parliament Hill for a decade without achieving its goal of Quebec sovereignty.

“I would have liked our presence in Ottawa to have been over by now because it would have meant we'd reached our goal,'' Mr. Duceppe told The Globe and Mail in August on the anniversary of the creation of the party. The party says it will have no reason to exist if it achieves sovereignty for Quebec.

The party was founded by Lucien Bouchard, who is now Quebec Premier, when a group of disgruntled Tory MPs left their party to work in the Commons for an independent Quebec. In 1990, Mr. Duceppe was propelled into politics after winning in the riding of in Laurier-Ste-Marie, Que. The son of well-known Montreal actor Jean Duceppe, Mr. Duceppe was chosen by Mr. Bouchard to run after two former Parti Québécois cabinet ministers said no.

Born on July 22, 1947 in Montreal, he received a bachelor of arts from College Mont-Saint-Louis and studied political science at the University of Montreal. He became a separatist in 1967, the same year as René Lévesque. Soon after, he joined in the labour movement and communism. He belonged to the Communist Workers party for three years.

Before his political life, Mr. Duceppe was a union organizer for the Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux, and in his first election, he had the support of many community leaders and activists. One New Democratic Party leader actually withdrew from the by-election so she wouldn't harm Mr. Duceppe's chances of winning in 1990.

Mr. Duceppe has always had a strong sense of justice for francophones and has been known for his articulate manner in the House of Commons. He has been attempting to prove that the Bloc is not just a one-issue party - including issues such as the environment and foreign affairs in his campaign kickoff. Fighting organized crime is another major theme for a party, as Quebec has been beset by biker gang violence.

A day before the election was called, Mr. Duceppe predicted that the Bloc would win more than the 44 seats it has going into the race, but would not be drawn into detailed predictions. Some party officials have predicted more than 50 seats. On the eve of the election campaign, he also said the Bloc would be open to co-operating with other parties if a minority government is elected, although he would not agree to a coalition government.

A sore spot for the Bloc is the fact that two former MPs, Nic LeBlanc and Richard Bélisle, decided to join the Alliance and run for the party in Quebec. Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Bouchard have said the Alliance's views are too right-wing and too extreme to appeal to Quebeckers - especially on abortion and crime issues.

“We're also the best-placed to fight this right-wing current which is surging across Canada,” the leader said in August.

Mr. Duceppe has a record of supporting women. On Oct. 12, the Bloc proposed a $45-billion expansion of Canada's social-safety net over five years as a means of dealing with women's issues. Mr. Duceppe said the plan, including a $25-billion expansion of employment insurance and $4.2-billion to forgive debt of developing countries and expand foreign aid, would respond to the demands of the World March of Women.

As party leader, he is known for having a strong grip on members and has reprimanded those who miss meetings. And his leadership has not been without controversy. Mr. Duceppe's new book, book, Gilles Duceppe Par Lui Meme, was coincidentally released Friday, two days before the election call.

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