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Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet sheds "goon" image

MONTREAL - Voters will see a smiling Yves-Francois Blanchet on campaign posters throughout Quebec during the federal election campaign that got underway Wednesday.

But not so long ago, the Bloc Quebecois leader was best known for his rants and fiery temper.

The former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister in Pauline Marois's government earned the nickname "goon" for his defence of his leader against a mutiny from PQ members in 2011. He remained faithful to Marois and didn't hesitate to come down hard on those threatening to jump from the party.

"The tough-guy image I had was based on the circumstances," Blanchet, 54, recalled during an interview at a community centre in Montreal's Pointe-aux-Trembles district. "Someone had to do it, because I found it was unacceptable that Pauline was getting slammed like that."

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Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet speaks to reporters after the tabling of the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet speaks to reporters after the tabling of the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

MONTREAL - Voters will see a smiling Yves-Francois Blanchet on campaign posters throughout Quebec during the federal election campaign that got underway Wednesday.

But not so long ago, the Bloc Quebecois leader was best known for his rants and fiery temper.

The former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister in Pauline Marois's government earned the nickname "goon" for his defence of his leader against a mutiny from PQ members in 2011. He remained faithful to Marois and didn't hesitate to come down hard on those threatening to jump from the party.

"The tough-guy image I had was based on the circumstances," Blanchet, 54, recalled during an interview at a community centre in Montreal's Pointe-aux-Trembles district. "Someone had to do it, because I found it was unacceptable that Pauline was getting slammed like that."

As environment minister in the short-lived Marois government, Blanchet bore the brunt of his leader's political decisions to permit hydrocarbon exploration work on Anticosti Island, allow the reversal of Enbridge's 9B pipeline and proceed with a cement plant in the Gaspe region.

After his defeat in the 2014 election, Blanchet ventured into the media world. He founded TAG.media in the Mauricie region, which shuttered after barely three months in operation. Subsequently, he became a political pundit, offering analysis in a newspaper column and becoming a regular on the "Club des Ex" on Radio-Canada's all-news network.

Last year, the commentator posted a message to his Twitter account suggesting supporters of the Coalition Avenir Quebec were homophobic. Hit with criticism, Blanchet replied: "Does it bother you? I don't really care, you know. I'm a commentator."

Blanchet had been approached by Bloc brass as early as 2016. He recently revealed that at the time, he felt the caucus turmoil was only beginning.

When he decided to seek the leadership of the sovereigntist federal party last January and was acclaimed to the post, he did so "with the very, very sincere willingness to put the whole thing together," Blanchet said.

The Bloc has shed the image of a quarreling party since Martine Ouellet's short but tumultuous period at the helm ended in June 2018. The plan now is to grow support, betting on the environment and the creation of wealth to justify sovereignty.

"We have the right to take positions, decisions and initiatives as Quebecers, including on the economy," Blanchet said.

The Bloc leader heads into the campaign with a goal of winning the confidence of Quebec voters and doubling his team to a minimum of 20 members. "People aren't obliged to vote for us. They have to want to," the leader has repeated to his candidates and journalists alike.

With polls showing support hovering around 20 per cent in Quebec, the Bloc could prove to be a beneficiary in several ridings where three-way fights are emerging.

Blanchet said he's aware that'll make him a target of other leaders trying to get under his skin.

"My adversaries will be after me. They'll say: 'Hey, if we get Blanchet to lose his cool, we'll benefit,' " Blanchet said.

"It won't happen," he added with a grin.

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