Martine Ouellet officially jumps into race to lead Bloc Québécois

Former Parti Québécois MNA Martine Ouellet has been saying for more than a month that she wants be the next leader of the Bloc Québécois, and on Sunday morning she officially joined the race.

Ouellet, who now sits as an independent in the National Assembly, announced at a news conference that she's submitted all the paperwork that's required be on the ballot for the leadership vote in April — including more than 1,000 signatures backing her candidacy.

Speaking to Bloc Québécois supporters in attendance, Ouellet said the party is not a political dinosaur, but more like the mythological phoenix that rose from the ashes.

She added that she believes "defending the interests of Quebec and preparing independence go hand in hand."  

Ouellet also took the opportunity to denounce Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's record on environmental protection and questioned his independence from the petroleum industry.

In particular, she questioned his links to the controversial Energy East pipeline project, a proposed 4,600-kilometre pipeline by Calgary-based energy corporation TransCanada.

"We here in Quebec, we don't want Energy East in any way," said Ouellet.

"But as long as the government isn't independent, [Trudeau] has the final decision on Energy East, and that's not normal."

Asked about the NDP and the orange wave that swept the Bloc from the electoral map in 2011, Ouellet said she does not believe there's "any real interest for the NDP in Quebec."

Leadership void

The Bloc has been without a permanent leader since Gilles Duceppe stepped down in October 2015, following the federal election.

Ouellet is only the second candidate to officially enter the race. Félix Pinel, who ran for the Bloc in 2015 and failed to win a seat, is the other candidate vying to succeed Duceppe.

The party will choose its new leader April 22.

In the 2015 election, the Bloc won 10 seats, up from the four it captured in 2011. Still, it fell short of the 12 needed to gain official party status in the House of Commons.

Ouellet ran for the PQ leadership in 2014 and again last year, both times finishing third.