MONTREAL — The Quebec Liberals are beefing up their ranks by adding a hulking former NHL defenceman to run in the upcoming election in a riding that has long been a party stronghold.
Enrico Ciccone's candidacy was formally announced Thursday — one day after Francois Ouimet, who's held the Marquette riding since 1994, bid a tearful farewell to his political career after being pushed out by the party.
Ciccone, 48, was joined by Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard at a news conference as the cloud over Ouimet's abrupt sacking remained.
"We need to bring a team that is going to be both experienced and made of new people," Couillard told reporters. "We've always renewed ourselves at strategic moments. This is one of those moments."
That need for renewal was what led to Ouimet's ouster on Tuesday when the longtime backbencher who'd never made cabinet was told by Liberal officials he was being dumped.
Ouimet accused Couillard on Wednesday of not keeping his word, saying the premier had assured him last May he would be allowed to run.
Couillard repeated Thursday it was a difficult decision.
"Opening the door to the future, that's how I see things," he said of the move. "I think a lot of people in Marquette, without minimizing the merits of Mr. Ouimet, will see themselves in what Enrico brings: an image of dynamism, youth, a new voice in politics."
Ciccone was a physical, stay-at-home defenceman who worked as a player agent and sports commentator after retiring.
The political newcomer said he was approached by other provincial parties but chose the Liberals because their values were closest to his.
"On the NHL ice, it's not easy, you've got to manage, they want your head constantly," Ciccone said.
"In politics, it's exactly the same thing. However, maybe the rules are a bit different: in hockey you deal with things right away. Here, you have to be a bit more diplomatic."
Ciccone played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars in 1990.
He had NHL stints in Minnesota, Washington, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Vancouver before he ended his career in Montreal.
Ciccone racked up 48 points in 374 games, along with 1,469 penalty minutes.
He had teased he was embarking on a major project when he announced his departure from a Montreal radio station this summer.
Ciccone acknowledged he will need a new team in the riding — no member of the current riding executive was invited to Thursday's announcement and virtually every member is stepping down.
Patrick Carroll, president of the riding association, said a decision was made Wednesday night.
Carroll said he was saddened by the treatment afforded Ouimet and that it will take a new leader or a demonstrated change in attitude from the current brass before he returns.
Julien Arsenault and Martin Leblanc, The Canadian Press