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Former Bloc Quebecois leader Michel Gauthier dead at 70

In this file photo, Michel Gauthier speaks at a rally in Metabetchouan, Que.
In this file photo, Michel Gauthier speaks at a rally in Metabetchouan, Que. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Former Bloc Quebecois leader Michel Gauthier has died at age 70 after a battle with lung cancer.

“Michel died in the arms of his wife and two children, his soul at peace,” Gauthier’s family said in a statement on Saturday.

Gilles Duceppe, the long-time former Bloc leader, spoke regularly with Gauthier, who’d announced last year he was fighting cancer.

“I spoke to him last week, he knew he didn’t have a lot of time left because of his illness, we spoke about life and politics, there were moments that weren’t easy,” Duceppe told The Canadian Press.

Duceppe remembered Gauthier as a good teacher who knew how to easily explain things concretely.

READ MORE: Former Bloc leader Michel Gauthier joins Conservatives

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“He was a go-getter, it’s sad to lose him so soon,” Duceppe said. “I had great moments by his side. Beyond the differences we could have, we wanted, both of us, that Quebec move forward.”

Gauthier was MP for 20 years, first for the riding of Roberval in Quebec’s Saguenay Lac-Saint Jean region between 1997 and 2004 and then for the new riding of Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean until 2007.

He was one of the most recognizable Bloc members, at one time serving as house leader.

During the 2019 fall federal election campaign, he briefly joined the Conservatives to help organize the party’s Quebec efforts, saying he’d renounced sovereignty but remained a Quebec nationalist.

He announced his departure due to illness in May 2019.

Current Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet offered his support to Gauthier’s family.

“On behalf of myself and Bloc Quebecois MPs, I extend my sincere condolences to the many friends and relatives of Michel Gauthier. I wish them the courage that he has shown in his fight against the disease,” Blanchet wrote on Twitter.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared his condolences in a tweet on Sunday.

“For decades, Michel Gauthier was a passionate advocate and fierce champion for the people of Roberval-Lac-Sait-Jean and Quebec,” he wrote. “My thoughts are with his family, friends, and former colleagues as they mourn his passing.”

Gauthier, who lived in Gatineau, Que., was born Feb. 18, 1950.

He began in provincial politics and was first elected to Quebec’s national assembly as a member of the Parti Quebecois in 1981 and was re-elected in 1985 in the provincial riding of Roberval.

During his time in provincial politics, he served as parliamentary secretary to Jacques Parizeau, who was Quebec’s finance minister.

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He was head of the local school board in Roberval between 1988 and 1993 before making the leap to federal politics.

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When former Bloc leader Lucien Bouchard left the federal party to return to provincial politics in Quebec, Gauthier was tapped to lead the sovereigntist party from 1996 to 1997, a time when it was the official Opposition.

When Duceppe was elected Bloc leader in 1997, Gauthier was appointed house leader, returning to the job he’d held under Bouchard.

After politics, Gauthier also spent some time working in media as host of the show “Gauthier” on the now defunct French-language network TQS.

Gauthier is survived by his wife Anne Allard, their children Isabelle and Alexandre and their families, his wife’s daughters Natacha and Katia, and their grandchildren.

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–With a file from Global News