Bloc Quebecois leader Daniel Paillé is stepping down as leader of the federal separatist party due to health reasons.

"I am leaving as a preventive measure, for myself and for the party," said Paillé.

"For several months I've had feelings of illness, and a diagnosis has determined it's a form of epilepsy. It's rare, it's manageable, but in a lifestyle that is stable, that is a normal lifestyle."

Paillé said that being in politics requires extraordinary endurance and that is not something he is able to provide any longer.

"Life in politics requires extra endurance. It's not a full-time job; it's a job that requires your whole life."

Paillé pointed out the party is planning a convention to take place in May 2014, which will give members time to launch a successful campaign before the 2015 election.

Bloc House Leader André Bellavance is now interim leader of the party, and on Jan. 11 party members will decide on a timeline for a leadership race.

The news of Paillé's resignation took many by surprise, including his predecessor, former Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe.

He spoke with CTV Montreal on Monday and said he had no idea that Paillé was in poor health.

"I am sad for him. He gave a good part of his life to the cause of Quebec," said Duceppe, adding that he wouldn’t rule out running for his old job.

Paillé was first elected to the House of Commons in 2009 in a byelection, but was defeated in 2011 during the general election that saw the Bloc go from having a majority of seats in Quebec to just four, losing a total of 44 seats.

In 2011 he was elected by BQ members to leadership of the party despite not having a seat in Parliament.

Before moving into federal politics, Paillé was elected as a Parti Quebecois MNA in 1994, stepping down two years later to work for the Société generale de financement, a provincial-government-run investment holding company.

Upon announcing he was leaving, Paillé said the Bloc will continue, as will the fight for separation.

"A nation cannot live while being part of another," said Paillé.

The Bloc admitted these are tough times for the party, but said there remains a solid base of sovereignist support.

Support for the party is stuck at 22 per cent in the polls, but Paillésays that support will grow because Quebecers know in their hearts that the Bloc is the only party that is totally committed to fighting for Quebec's interests in Ottawa.

“I'm surethe party will continue on the momentum that we were giving,” he said.

Paillé was a devoted politician, said Gazette political reporter Philip Authier.

“Whether you agree with him or not, you can admit his courage in taking on such a job. Nobody would want that job,” he said.

Political analyst Jean Lapierre said the Bloc has a definite following.

“When you see the fights between the NDP and the Liberals, they may be able to swing it in the middle so their prospects are not that bad,” he said.

New federal political financing rules mean that the Bloc, along with all federal parties, will soon have to survive solely on donations from the public.

Until now the party has been able to do well because even in seats where the Bloc did not win, they won a considerable number of votes which translated into funding.

Any new leader will have a tough job to revive the flagging party, and some names being touted as possible successors to Paillé are former Bloc MP Pierre Paquette and current MP Jean-Francois Fortin.