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Longtime Parti Quebecois members announce they won't seek re-election

Last Updated Jan 16, 2018 at 6:20 pm EDT

Parti Quebecois leadership candidate Alexandre Cloutier waves to supporters before hearing the leadership results at the Parti Quebecois leadership race results evening on Friday, October 7, 2016 in Levis, Quebec. Cloutier, 40, said this morning he will see out his mandate but not be a candidate for the Oct. 1 election. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

MONTREAL – Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-Francois Lisee is not pressing the panic button after several prominent PQ members of the national assembly announced Tuesday they won’t run in this year’s provincial election.

Lisee was quick to point out that the majority of his caucus will stay on.

“At the beginning of an election year, it’s the right moment, out of respect for the members and the party and voters in the riding, (for people) to lay their cards on the table and announce whether they intend to run,” Lisee said.

“For me … it’s a gesture of respect.”

Longtime politicians Alexandre Cloutier, Nicole Leger and Agnes Maltais said they will serve the rest of their mandates but won’t be candidates for the Oct. 1 election.

Cloutier, 40, who sought the PQ leadership twice in recent years, said he is not excluding a return to politics in the future but that his enthusiasm has faded as of late.

He was first elected in 2007.

Leger, 62, who was first elected in a Montreal riding in 1996, fought back tears as she announced her departure. Maltais, 61, is leaving politics after 20 years.

Some published reports Tuesday suggested several other longtime PQ members are also weighing their political futures.

The PQ currently holds 28 seats in the 125-member legislature, which is controlled by the Liberals, who hold 68 seats.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec has 21 seats, while the sovereigntist Quebec solidaire has three.

There are five Independent members of the legislature.

Philippe Fournier, who runs the poll-aggregating blog Qc125.com, says it doesn’t look good for the PQ at the moment.

He analyzed a long list of polls which indicate the PQ has lost points “left and right” since last spring.

“There’s months and months of data that show us that the PQ is going toward a disaster in October,” he told The Canadian Press.

‘The last projection that I calculated in December had the PQ at around 22 per cent of the popular vote and, with that 22 per cent, the average number of seats was 18.”

“If the PQ continues to slide and goes to 21, 20 or 19 per cent, you could have the PQ struggling to get to the 12-seat threshold — the threshold to be an official party at the national assembly.”

As for the next provincial government, Fournier said a minority Liberal government is plausible, but is not the likeliest outcome.

“If you ask me what the most likely scenario is, it would be a (Coalition) minority with the Liberals as the official opposition, but if the (Coalition) let slip “a few votes here and there, we could have a very weak Liberal minority with 52-54 seats.”

In a pitch to soft nationalists, Lisee has said in the past he would not call a sovereignty referendum until at least the second mandate of a PQ government.

Harold Chorney, a political economist at Concordia University, suggests that’s because Quebecers have other concerns right now.

“You’ve got people more worried about the economy, more worried about employment and prosperity, more worried about their children, the environment,” he said in an interview.

“These are all competing concerns and sovereignty doesn’t have the same allure that it once did. The generation of the sovereigntists was people from the ’50s and ’60s and that’s now passing from the scene inevitably.”

Several Liberals are also reportedly undergoing the same period of reflection as they consider whether they want to run again.

But, just like Lisee, Premier Philippe Couillard doesn’t appear to be worried.

“Out of a caucus of 70, to have a few people thinking about their future, it’s completely normal,” he told reporters Tuesday.

“You know getting into politics in one’s life is a tremendous commitment. . .it’s a lot of sacrifice for yourself and your family,” Couillard said. “Once you lose the energy. . .it’s probably better for you to withdraw.”

The Coalition isn’t expected to lose anyone, member Simon Jolin-Barrette said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Montreal Le Devoir said Francois Gendron, the dean of the national assembly, won’t seek re-election. He was first elected in 1976 and has held his seat since.

The newspaper also said Claude Cousineau, another PQ veteran, will bow out.