Is the Bloc good for Canada? -

Is the Bloc good for Canada?

Giving separatists a voice in Ottawa may have kept the country together


Photgraph by Roger Lemoyne

Gilles Duceppe is an odd sort of fixture on the federal political scene. The Bloc Québécois leader remains a separatist, of course, and thus capable of arousing outrage, as he did when he recently praised sovereigntists as “resisters,” borrowing a term usually reserved for those who opposed the Nazis in the Second World War. Yet he is also an unthreatening part of the furniture in Ottawa, and so too, after two decades, is his party. Although Conservatives and Liberals might not advertise the fact to voters outside Quebec, both parties have, when it suited them, worked closely with the Bloc on policy and politics. “It’s funny,” Duceppe told Maclean’s, “when we’re supporting the Tories, the Liberals are telling the Tories, ‘You’re sleeping with the separatists!’ And when we’re supporting the Liberals, the Tories are telling the Liberals, ‘You’re sleeping with the separatists!’ One day I told them, ‘You all want to be in bed with us but no one wants to marry us.’ ”

He has a point. Federalist politicians haven’t quite figured out how far to go with the Bloc, even as the party celebrates—if that’s the right word—its 20th anniversary this month. But if Duceppe revels in keeping federalists off balance, he’s arguably less forthright in acknowledging ambiguity in the minds of Bloc supporters about his party’s real function. Born out of the ashes of the failed Meech Lake constitutional accord, the Bloc was supposed to help pave the way to Quebec’s separation, tout de suite. But after the hair’s-breadth victory for the federalist side in the 1995 referendum, the next day of reckoning on Quebec’s future was postponed indefinitely. By giving sovereigntists a party to vote for in federal elections, and assuring them of a staunchly nationalist voice on Parliament Hill between campaigns, has the Bloc evolved into a sort of safety valve, even helping Canada stay together by easing the pressure to bring on another referendum?

Duceppe brushes that heretical notion aside with a casual, “Not at all.” But the Bloc at least provides a window onto Parliament Hill for Quebec nationalists who might otherwise turn their backs entirely on Ottawa. “I would say the positive side of the Bloc is that it forces many Quebecers to remain interested in federal politics, something that would not be as salient without the Bloc,” says François Rocher, director of the School of Political Studies at the bilingual University of Ottawa. And pollster Christian Bourque, of the Montreal firm Leger Marketing, says the Bloc has evolved from its early rabble-rousing days into a far more cautious force. “Their discourse of clash and confrontation,” Bourque says, “has turned into one of just defending Quebec’s interests.”

Duceppe denies that the Bloc’s comfortably settled-in status in Ottawa tends to reduce the sense of urgency in the separatist cause. He points to a historical precedent: the repeated election to the British Parliament of Irish MPs in favor of “home rule” for Ireland from the 1870s through to the achieving of Irish independence in 1922: “They were elected with huge majorities to Westminster, and they were facing the same kind of argument: ‘If you’re there, it’s like a safety valve.’ But they succeeded.”

Duceppe says his views on Quebec and Canada have not changed in any substantial way over the past 20 years. Still, in his early days on Parliament Hill, he says, he was struck by how MPs from the rest of Canada with divergent ideological and party roots—Liberal, NDP, and, in those days, Reform—could all speak of Canada with the same underlying conviction. “And I think this is beautiful,” he says. “I’m telling Quebecers that if we want a sovereign Quebec, we have to unite independently of our differences on philosophical issues or economic issues or social issues.”

But like the Parti Québécois in provincial politics, the Bloc leans firmly to the left, often leaving room in the Quebec debate for federalists, or sometimes lapsed separatists, to make the case for less interventionist and less expensive government policies. Many of Duceppe’s supporters like it that way. In fact, Tristan Dénommée, the political science major from Montréal who founded the University of Ottawa’s Bloc club—the first accredited BQ student club outside Quebec—puts more emphasis on the Bloc’s left-wing bent than its quest for independence. “From my point of view, the Bloc has put away the idea of sovereignty. They just want to be in Ottawa to represent the interests of Quebec,” Dénommée said. “We’re a little bit more socialist than the rest of Canada.”

Long exposure to Ottawa may have shaped the Bloc in other ways. Suzanne Tremblay, a former Bloc MP, said in a panel discussion in Quebec City earlier this spring that being in Ottawa brought blocquistes into direct contact with the greater ethnic diversity of Canadian public life, perhaps influencing them to become open to Quebecers from immigrant communities. That was, however, a rare nod in the direction of recognizing any positive values rubbing off on Bloc members from their routine interaction with politicians from the rest of Canada. Duceppe is more prone to touting tactical gains. He points to the exposure his MPs get to foreign affairs and trade files. “We’re meeting the ambassadors regularly, we’re participating to all those foreign missions, we’re receiving the foreign missions in Ottawa,” he says.

Back in 1990, few would have predicted the Bloc would become so deeply entrenched that it would be incorporated into the capital’s diplomatic swirl. It came to life that May, when Lucien Bouchard quit Brian Mulroney’s Tories over his objection to proposed changes to the Meech Lake accord, and was followed by a handful of other disgruntled Quebec Tories and a couple of Liberals. A union organizer named Gilles Duceppe joined their ranks a few months later, when he won a Montreal by-election. In 1993’s cataclysmic federal election, the Bloc won 54 seats, dominating Quebec, and emerging as the official Opposition.

Bouchard went on to lead the separatist side to a heartbreaking defeat in the 1995 referendum. Jumping to provincial politics, he left open the Bloc leader’s chair, which Duceppe has filled since 1997.

That leaves him today, at 62, the longest-serving leader on the federal stage. The closest he came to exiting was in 2007, when he said he would run for the leadership of the Parti Québécois, and then, in an embarrassing reversal a day later, dropped out. In the 2008 federal election, his Bloc won 49 of Quebec’s 75 seats, but its popular vote share dropped to 38 per cent, far below highs near 50 per cent in 1993 and 2004. Duceppe strikes a pose of equanimity on those numbers. “All in all,” he said, “I think there’s a solid 40 per cent block of sovereigntist people in Quebec, there’s 40 per cent federalists and 20 per cent going from one pole to the other depending on the context.”

If support for sovereignty is stuck well below majority territory, Duceppe has still managed to stay in the fray. The Conservatives needed Bloc support to pass their first two budgets. Harper tabled and passed a House motion in 2006 recognizing the Québécois as a nation within Canada. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2007 deal to eliminate the so-called “fiscal imbalance” by transferring billions more to the provinces was, in part, a reaction to hectoring from Quebec nationalists, including the Bloc. And Duceppe’s support was integral to the failed Liberal-NDP bid to form a coalition government in 2008.

All that action, and yet Duceppe, and his main cause, can both look moribund. But perhaps viewing them that way, even seeing the Bloc as a safe outlet for separatist sentiments, is a false comfort. Rocher suggests federalists should instead regard the Bloc as a constant reminder that Quebec’s future could again turn quickly into a live issue. For his part, Duceppe professes to be patiently waiting for that turning point. “When we look at human history, sometimes a decade isn’t worth a day, and sometimes an hour is worth many decades,” he said. “I’m telling you we’re working very hard and our hour will come.”


Is the Bloc good for Canada?

  1. "By giving sovereigntists a party to vote for in federal elections, and assuring them of a staunchly nationalist voice on Parliament Hill between campaigns, has the Bloc evolved into a sort of safety valve, even helping Canada stay together by easing the pressure to bring on another referendum?"

    Any Quebecer would give you an unequivocal yes to that question. That's why the hardcore separatists dislike the Bloc. Do away with the Bloc and you can be assured that support for separatism will rise.

  2. For my part, I am dismayed that Quebecers are willing to elect representatives to Canada's government who have only Quebec's interests in mind. It is incredibly selfish. Since Quebec is accorded all the rights and privileges of a Canadian province, it is even dishonest.

    I'd have a lot more respect for the separatists if they had an appreciation for their patriotic duties as Canadians while they remain Canadians and a sense of justice: while enjoying the benefits of membership in Canada, one owes it to Canada to fulfill one's legitimate responsibilities.

    • No more selfish than all of the "The West Wants In" Reform candidates back in the day. Or the continued hatred of the Liberals in Alberta because of energy policy in the 70s/80s. Or someone in Atlantic Canada who votes for whatever party solely because they want to remove the ban on cod fishing. At the end of the day, a lot of political decisions are made based on local concerns. We have maintained the FPTP system in order to facilitate this. The fact that people from one region that is demonstrably different have a party to represent their interests is not really that shocking.

    • I think you are projecting Gaunilon.

      This is a representative democracy. Each parliamentarian represents the people who elected them (i.e. their riding) and their duty is to advocate for the people of their riding.

      Collectively parliament of course does represent Canada and all Canadians. As a result, it is imperative that the substantial minority of Quebecers that want to separate from Canada have their views represented. As Geddes points out, if those who would want to bar the Bloc from parliament had their way the country would be much more fragile and much less democratic.

      Finally, it is worth noting that Bloc has on many occasions acted in Canada's interests and often with less partisanship that the other parties. There is no doubt the Bloc is looking for an opportunity to have Quebec leave Canada, but the argument that they are bent on destroying the Rest of Canada has very little evidence behind it.

      • You think I am projecting what, exactly?

        I'm not saying the BQ should be disallowed. I believe every citizen has the right to vote for whatever candidate is on the ballot, and the elected MP has the right to work for whatever cause they deem worthy. However, it is understood that Parliamentarians (and indeed all citizens) are supposed to put the country's good above their own. That is the meaning of patriotism. Anything less is dereliction of duty, selfishness, and (when partaking of the benefits of being in Canada) dishonest.

        Yes, they sometimes do something that is also in Canada's best interests. This is coincidence, not patriotism. They are, after all, in their own words "Un parti propre au Québec".

        • The Bloc view is that the country we call Canada or more specifically Canadian citizens would be better served by splitting Canada into two countries: Quebec and ROC. (Of course, hopefully ROC would come up with a better name! ) They profess to believe that this would be better not only for those from Quebec but also for those in the ROC. If one accepts their assumption, then it is hardly unpatriotic to seek political reform (in this case, admittedly drastic political reform) for the citizens of Canada.

          • If your understanding of the Bloc view is correct, then your point follows and I would agree. However I have never seen the Bloc state their position this way. In my experience it's always been the party specific to Quebec's interests – as their own slogan that I quoted above suggests – without regard to the ROC.

            If you know of an official statement from the Bloc that supports your understanding, I'd be interested to see it.

          • Gaunilon, did you read the interview that Duceppe did with Macleans?

          • Yes.

          • Yet you still think that this is about selfishness. Do you feel the same about the Reform Party?

          • While you can identify similarities, that's a classic apples vs. oranges comparison. Reform was never a separatist party. Period. If it had been, its slogan would have been "The West Wants Out", not "The West Wants In". I wasn't a Reform supporter, but its mandate and platform covered all kinds of things, not just the Western alienation/participation issue. An example was fiscal responsibility, which completely transcends regionalism.

  3. I respectfully disagree. The Bloc ensures that Francophone Quebec (and particularly the parts of Quebec most likely to support secession) will have limited representation within government. Whereas the Liberal party was once overflowing with "wise men" from Quebec, today's national leaders hailing from Quebec are a bunch of ridiculous country bumpkins (that Maxime Bernier may be the most talented of the bunch is a serious indictment). Should the Liberals form a government that situation would be little improved because most Liberal MPs from Quebec are elected in ridings with a mostly English population.

    The Bloc also ensures that many Quebec seats in the heartland are electorally off the table for the federalist parties. The marginal districts (which are far fewer in number than they would be without the Bloc) are in parts of the province with large (but not overwhelmingly so) numbers of federalists. Election-minded politicians don't have to give a whit about the interests of separatists.

    Ineffective representation and electoral irrelevance reinforce, rather than assuage, separatist sentiments.

  4. I'm intrigued by the comparison to Ireland. While it is true that the early Irish parties sat in Westminster, eventually most of the Irish seats were won by Sinn Fein, who refused to take their seats (and continue this tradition to the present). It's intriguing how different Ottawa would be if the Bloc MPs simply refused to be seated. So many things would be different…

    • The Sinn Fein is too small to be relevant today, but Irish MPs actually played a decisive role before the creation of a separate Irish Republic. That is because they were numerous enough to form the balance of power (generally they backed the Liberals, who were more favourable to Irish home rule). However, unlike the Bloc, they were able to use their parliamentary clout to get home rule. The practice of deciding secession by a provincial referendum, moreover, has made the Bloc unable to act similarly.

  5. Quebecers, french or otherwise, have a deep distain for what Canada has become in 2010. I would never let my children serve in the military, there is not pride to sending him to die in a desert for NO GOOD REASON!. Until the rest of Canada returns to its peace bound foreign policiy instead of this partizan, NATO war mongering ways, Quebebers will remain alienated.

    • As I recall, you didn't want to fight Hitler either.


      • Many Quebecers served in the military during the 2nd world war so be careful with your insults.

        • Mackenzie is right. My granddad was from Que. City served with the R.C.H.A. and was overseas from beginning to end of the "Great War." His two sons, one my dad, the other my uncle served in WW II the former in Holland the later with one of Canada's oldest regiments. How about looking up the exploits of the Alouette Squadron, RCAF.

          As for Duceppe, he is a self-serving charlatan whose derrière should be drop-kicked over the Peace Tower into the Ottawa River.

        • Actually, rural Quebec ranks among the regions of this country with the highest level of participation in Canada's military.

    • don't forget a quebecer, jean chretien, got us involved in afghanistan

  6. One of the reasons that the Canadian political landscape is in a state of gridlock is because the large Bloc support in Quebec makes it very difficult for either the Liberals or Conservatives to obtain a majority.

    Of course, the Bloc, as a Quebec regional party, may just be a bit ahead of the curve. The Conservatives are increasingly becoming a party that represents the interests of the West, and the Liberals are increasingly becoming a party that represents the interests of urban Canada (Toronto, Montreal, downtown Vancouver).

    • There is 308 seats in the house and less than 50 Bloc; stop whinning you have more seats than needed for a 155 majority.

      Don't ask me to care about canadians's political views anymore than you care about the Bloc's electoral base; just DO IT and shut up.

    • when they add the 32 new seats to the west and ontario that will make quebecs 75 seats less of an issue

    • Ah! Ah!
      The Bloc has less than 50 seats on a total of 308. A majority comes with 155 seats….so if you want a majority DO IT !
      Whinning about the Bloc is just that.

  7. Every province should have a party that represents its interest. Ontario needs a party that will defend the interests of the province. We have Harper looking after the interest of Alberta and weakening the ability of the Federal government to ever challenge the provinces. When Harper leaves the scene, the Federal government will merely function as a tax collector and follow the dictates of the richest province, which is Alberta. Ontario needs to be prepared for that eventually. With a currency dictated by oil, Ontario could be made the poorest province as the manufacturing and service industries are decimated by the overvalued currency.

    • "We have Harper looking after the interest of Alberta and weakening the ability of the Federal government to ever challenge the provinces."

      So explain to me why Harper is challenging the provinces over the issue of the ability of the feds to impose a national securities regulator. Please.

    • Every province should have a party that represents its interest.

      What a splendid idea for a FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. If by splendid, one means skull-crushingly comatose. And, if by idea, one means brain fart of the highest odour.

    • "We have Harper looking after the interest of Alberta"

      Fewer than half of CPC MPs elected last election were from west of Ontario and fewer than 15% of CPC seats are from Alberta. Harper's power base is Ontario, where he dominated with 39% of the vote and 51 seats compared to 33% for the Liberals.

      Has any Liberal ever gotten a fact right? Ever?

      • No, and if they dont get it right, they simply make it up. The bloc is not good for Canada, and most Canadians know that.They suck at the teet, all the while spewing they want to leave . Duceppe is a master at whining

  8. The Block is so full of shit it stinks for thousands of miles.


    Print me up several hundred banners to hand out at the next Bloc rally.

  10. "And Duceppe's support was integral to the failed Liberal-NDP bid to form a coalition government in 2008."

    Hmmm, I'm pretty sure this is factually inaccurate, let's check the source documents:

    "The Bloc Québécois will neither move nor will it support any motions of nonconfidence
    in the Government during the term of its support for this agreement,
    and will vote in favour of the Government's position with respect to all matters
    referred to in the immediately preceding paragraph.
    The Bloc Québécois will adhere to this agreement until June 30, 2010 unless
    Agreed on December 1, 2008
    Hon. Stéphane Dion
    Leader, the Liberal Party of Canada
    Hon. Jack Layton
    Leader, the New Democratic Party of Canada
    Gilles Duceppe
    Leader, le Bloc Québécois"

    OK, I guess that proves beyond any doubt the Bloc were a part of the coalition. Darn, the media lied to me again, I hate it when they do that. You can make it up to us next time by exposing Duceppe's membership in the Maoist Workers' Communist Party of Canada when he was well into his thirties; that should put to rest English Canada's love affair with the guy.

    Heh, quite the triumvirate that coalition would have been, you've got a Maoist labour organizer, a Marxist professor who named his pet turtle Trotsky…and then there is the guy from the NDP who is arguably to the right of both of them.

    • Um, if you read that sentence properly, it basically says that the Bloc Québécois were necessary to the coalition, though the coalition ultimately failed. literacy is a good thing, my friend…

  11. What I like about the bloc is that the conservatives or the liberals are not in majority. If they want to pass new legislation it has to be with the consent of in least 2 of the federal parties. It acts as a check and balance in a parlement that can get easily corrupted. they have blocked the privatisation of different crown corporations and this is unknown to the general public. This present government is okay as long as it stays a minority government.

  12. The fact that Gilles Duceppe can never obtain a majority in Canada's Parliament is manifestation of the glory of political idealism, time keeping, defeating Machiavelli's notion that the end justifies the means. However, he is certainly the smartest politician in the country in the fact the he has fooled everyone in hiding the reality that on sensitive issues, he is the true balance of power, that tongue in cheek comment about the BQ being the "slutty girl" of Canadian politics just a smoke screen for his own smartness. Isn't it de la Rochefoucauld who said that the height of being clever is being able to conceal it…

  13. Treason, these bloc heads should be turfed from the hill NOW.They are a disgrace to Canada.
    Another phony separatist threat coming your way.Get ready folks…
    Quebec has no intention of leaving Canada, why when you can have complete control of Quebec and use the rest of the country as your own personal bank machine, any time you want? “Ya, we'll ban the English language and culture in Quebec, (bill 22, 178, 101…), we'll force the rest of the country to fund whatever we demand (bilingualism, really just a hiring quota for the french), we've got the best of both words. Yippy, I love those poor suckers outside Quebec; they have no idea what we are doing with the billions they funnel to us yearly.”

    What are they really up to? “First Quebec, then we take over the rest of the country, one step at a time…through bilingualism…” PT, “How to take over a country through bilingualism…” SD. That's what's really going on. Wake up, people!

  14. Keeping the country together, but at what cost? At them moment Quebec receives 8 billion in transfer payments. And they would have received more if Jack Layton's coalition conspiracy had taken hold. For many Canadians, the idea of constantly genuflecting to the whims of the aging soverignists, has worn out it's welcome.

  15. As a card-carrying Conservative, I'm very proud to be associated with the one major party that the Canada-hating commie Duceppe would not want to form an alliance with. He obviously won't become Prime Minister but if he were to become the leader of an independent Quebec, the people there would learn to hate him as much as most English Canadians do. The more you learn about the creep's background, the more you see he'd be another Mugabe. By the way, every vote for the Liberals or NDP gives Duceppe a hand in governing Canada as a whole.

  16. Another important point is that Quebec's so called superior culture is not under protection, or in need of protection. These very words have been misconstrued for meaning subsidization. Quebec is therefore a heavily subsidized place because as this magazine has already reported, cultural attendance in Quebec is really quite lagging behind the rest of the country.

  17. No 1.The tone of some the comments posted are closer to hatred than rational.
    No 2.Billingualism is not a plot to help the seperatists! Should it be any language, it is a tool that enhances your communication abilities.
    No 3. The Block is not your ennemi. At worse, it is political party that has a different view than yours, on the short and medium term it is not set to split the country. Some values for even for the seperatist movement are rooted in Quebecers, currency, passeport, military…would still come from Canada. This is the kind of deal the seperatist movement has been offering.
    I have never voted for them, but Ironically, I can tell you they are probably the most honest and least corrupted group on parliament hill.

  18. Billingualism is forced on the rest of Canada while QC remains French only.
    Try enrolling your child in an English school in QC these days.
    Hope when QC cries for separation the next time the rest of Canada gets to vote as well.

  19. Why does the Bloc gain federal status if they are solely representative of one province, and it's interests? Why do I have to watch them in the federal government? Why do Canadian tax dollars go towards paying them and for the associated perks they have as a federal party? I have no care for his views, I do not live in Quebec and nor do the rest of the country. The rest of us watch as Government bows and panders to the minority, and succumbs to archaic pressure tactics. I love how we bend backwards for in essence the looser in the history of Canada.

    They want to separate fine, but we do need to remember about Canada East Quebec came from confederation so if they leave what happens? Do we give them the original area along the St Lawrence or grant they northern QC? Or rather tell them all to go pound salt as we originally should of?

    This grand idea of 95 where QC would separate and yet still retain Canadian passports, money and all. If they do separate then on the date they leave they absolve all ties and see how well the country of QC lives. It is long overdue we stop as a country giving in and looking to the minorities. We are one nation, all human and all should be committed to the best interest of the country as a whole, not as small entities all combined fighting for distinct rights for the factions we represent.

  20. u guys are


  21. i agee :)