Consider the topics Gilles Duceppe covered over three recent days in question period. On the first, the Bloc Québécois leader pressed the Prime Minister on reports that bureaucrats had urged the government not to cancel foreign aid funding of abortions. The next, he slammed Stephen Harper over his push to create a Canada-wide securities regulator. A day later, he was back on the abortion issue, this time listing prominent Tories as members of the Catholic group Opus Dei, charging that policy was being influenced by “the fundamentalist religious right.”
Aid policy, stock market regulation, the inner workings of the Conservative party—that’s a lot of ground to cover. Duceppe has been ranging just as widely, learning file after file, for nearly two decades. He became the first elected Bloc MP by winning a Montreal by-election in August 1990, and the separatist party’s leadership in 1997. Although dedicated to breaking up the country, Duceppe is hardly limited to advocating for that split. He wades in on just about every big issue. And if he’s not well briefed, he expects to hear about it from his 84-year-old mother. “When I’m not good, sometimes she calls me and she says, ‘I saw you on TV.’ ‘So?’ ‘You were not good,’ ” he says, laughing. “She’s very severe!”
That homey anecdote shows how Duceppe brings a human touch that makes him hard to demonize. Sheer familiarity has made him a less threatening figure, allowing him to gain enough votes from his House peers to be named the most knowledgeable MP. Still, there’s a poignancy to this win. Outside his Bloc caucus, parliamentarians wish Duceppe was using his prodigious understanding and experience in any another cause.