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In Quebec, orange is the new Bloc

More and more Quebec separatists are fleeing the Bloc in favour of the NDP. Could the party be wiped off the map?


 
NDP Leader Jack Layton walks by a Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe sign outside of the campaign bus Saturday, April 23, 2011  in Montreal. Layton held a big rally in the riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie the Bloc Quebecois leader's home riding. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

NDP Leader Jack Layton walks by a Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe sign outside of the campaign bus Saturday, April 23, 2011 in Montreal. Layton held a big rally in the riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, the Bloc Quebecois leader’s home riding. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

Late last August, the Bloc Québécois revealed its catchy campaign slogan: “Qui prend pays prend parti” (“Choosing a country means choosing a party”). The line is everywhere on Bloc campaign material and the inference is clear: After years as the go-to protest party for disaffected Quebec sovereignists and federalists alike, the Bloc is now squarely geared toward Quebec independence—and is interested only in harvesting the indépendantiste vote.

Yet it is a mark of the decline in the Bloc’s electoral fortunes that even sovereignists aren’t necessarily supporting the Bloc this time around. Instead, many have continued the trend of the last federal election and chosen the NDP as their protest vote of choice. “The orange wave in 2011”—in which the NDP took 59 of the province’s 75 seats—“robbed the Bloc of its abilities to be effective at the federal level. It doesn’t have any power left,” says Gaston, a longtime campaigner for both the Bloc and the Parti Québécois, who didn’t want his last name used. This time, he is volunteering for his local NDP candidate.

As the 2011 results suggest, Quebecers’ desertion of the Bloc isn’t particularly new. Yet the Bloc still garnered about 23 per cent of the votes in Quebec—likely the very votes the party is trying to hold onto this time around. Gaston doubts the party will get even close to that this time around. “The Bloc is going to be swept off the map,” he says.

Related: The renewed militancy of the Bloc Québécois

He’s certainly not the only one with this inkling. In a recent interview with Radio-Canada, former PQ environment minister Yves-François Blanchet said he refused the Bloc’s offer for him to run for the party—if only because he didn’t want to be part of the imminent bloodbath. “Is it possible that the Bloc will disappear at the end of October? Clearly, yes,” Blanchet said. The Bloc, he added, was a victim of the overall decline in the sovereignist movement. “We can’t pretend that there is a new momentum in the movement,” he said. (Bloc spokesperson Dominic Vallières said there was never any “formal approach” on the part of the Bloc to recruit Blanchet.)

Even Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe is in trouble. A recent CROP poll, commissioned by the NDP, has him trailing incumbent NDP candidate Hélène Laverdière by nearly 30 points. Meanwhile, the NDP has already attracted several notables of the sovereignist movement to its ranks. Farouk Karim was once the PQ candidate in the provincial riding of Outremont, home of NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s federal seat. Today, Karim is an NDP staffer. In June, the NDP recruited longtime Bloc adviser Chantal Proulx to its side.

Related: The off-key notes of Gilles Duceppe’s redemption song

For diehard sovereignists, a large-scale defection to the NDP in Quebec is a nightmare scenario. By supporting a party that has a legitimate chance of forming a government, it suggests, once again, that Quebec, with all its perceived differences, can nonetheless participate and thrive in the Canadian experiment.

These defections also illustrate the NDP’s endurance in Quebec. In sweeping the province four years ago, and maintaining its popularity since then, it has effectively made itself what the Bloc used to be: a way to stem any Conservative electoral success. Harper remains woefully unpopular outside a handful of ridings, mostly in and around Quebec City, with the NDP (and not the Bloc) coming in second in 2011.

The NDP’s strength was enough for the FTQ, Quebec’s largest union federation, to throw its support behind the NDP. Quebec sovereignty is ingrained in the FTQ’s history; nevertheless, its management has launched a sort of “anyone but Harper” campaign supporting NDP candidates (and one Liberal) across the province. “The priority is to get Harper out and, in Quebec, the NDP has the best chance of doing that,” one Montreal-area Péquiste and former Bloc militant told Maclean’s.

Bloc spokesperson Vallières played down the FTQ’s quasi-endorsement of the NDP. “The FTQ made a hasty decision. The NDP is only ahead in Quebec. It is declining in British Columbia and Ontario. I think there’s going to be a lot of disappointment in October when the NDP doesn’t form the government.”

Still, the NDP is clearly chuffed at having the wind in its sails four years after its breakthrough—and not in the least bit mystified as to why sovereignists would support a proudly federalist party. “Most of them are lefties. They think the Bloc is done, they want to replace Harper and they’ll never vote for Justin Trudeau,” says NDP spokesperson Karl Bélanger.

For the NDP, it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but a vote is a vote. And while sovereignists will support a federalist party, they seem unable to bring themselves to vote for a Trudeau. Even in death, Pierre Elliott Trudeau remains a mortal enemy. Some things really don’t change.

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In Quebec, orange is the new Bloc

  1. It’s my understanding Quebecers are known to be fickle voters, that’s what I always understood, I’ve even heard this author on several occasions say so, on political talking head shows, and they want Harper to go at any cost. But if Mulcair can’t bring it home in the parts of the country where it counts, and the Grits pick up enough steam to show they are the more credible party(I’m still not convinced of all these polls), I wonder, will Quebecers fickleness change knowing another party can take Harper out. I am willing to out on a limb here to say, Quebecers would not have any problem finding a clothes pin to hold their noses to vote for Justin Trudeau and the Grits, knowing they have a chance to put Harper in the rear view mirror.

    • Just to add, seems like the author is truly confirming what most Canadians have been thinking, the NDP in Quebec are running a separatist wing of the Bloc party, who knows, Gille may even cross the floor.

      • I agree…

        Many of the young NDP’ers from Quebec are just seperatists who want to vote on getting rid of the Clarity Act…as Mulcair has promised to do.

    • This cliche that Quebec voters are “fickle” is getting rather tired. If anything, were one to look at Canadian political history, it would become pretty obvious that Western Canadians are in fact the most fickle voters (British Columbians in particular).

      Quebec stuck with the Bloc Quebecois for twenty years, the PC’s for a decade before that and the Liberals for a century before that. At the provincial level they have alternated between the federalist Quebec Liberals and separatist Parti Quebecois in a pretty rigid two-party system since the 1970s. That’s not exactly “fickle”.

      The problem with this cliched and shallow argument that Quebec’s support for the NDP is shallow is that it ignores too many factors – namely the popularity of Thomas Mulcair in Quebec. Quebeckers aren’t just voting “strategically” to “Stop Harper,” they actually like Tom Mulcair, a lot. His approval ratings are through the roof in Quebec, higher than Jack Layton’s in 2011 in fact. Even during Justin Trudeau’s 2013 honeymoon, when it seemed as though the Liberals could make inroads in francophone Quebec, Mulcair was personally more popular by far.

      It should come as no surprise that Mulcair is the most popular federal party leader in the province: Quebeckers actually know who he is. He was a cabinet minister and before the a Liberal MNA for over a decade. He publicly feuded with Charest over development in public parks and introduced an environmental rights bill. His entire adult life has been centred in Quebec.

      Compare that to Justin Trudeau who seems to have spent the majority of his adult life working menial jobs in British Columbia and then as a no-show MP in Ottawa. Should it come as any surprise that Quebeckers prefer and trust Mulcair?

      The Liberals are so uncompetitive in francophone Quebec that it is more likely that Ontario voters looking to “stop Harper” will vote “strategically” for the NDP. That would certainly be the smarter bet.

      • You just nailed it for me, when you said about Mulcair “Quebecers actually know who he is’, that is one of Thoms problems, Quebec knows him, but the rest of the country doesn’t, and that will be Thoms biggest Achilles Heel. How can you trust someone, you don’t know, Canadians don’t even know who his wife is. Just look at the TVO interview with Steve Paikin(thoms twitter buddy) and John Geddes last Monday night. Muclair is still an unknown commodity..

  2. I luv a good headline. Catches the attention

  3. In recent visits to Quebec I was surprised that most of the young people that I met who were working in restaurants, hotels etc. were New Democrats.
    They were social democrats who often had visited outside Quebec and found fellow Canadians outside Quebec were friendly and often progressive like themselves.
    On the other hand some middle-aged or seniors I met still had glowing embers of separatism in their heads.
    Tom Mulcair has been a leader in the pro-Canada movement in Quebec for over 35 years and is building on the great work of bon Jack!
    My Canada includes Quebec and I am delighted that in the province that knows Tom Mulcair and Justin best – Quebec- Tom Mulcair and the New Democrats are surging, and Justin and the corrupt Liberal party are drifting downward.

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