Like a cat, the Bloc Québécois seems to have nine lives. It has often been deemed expired, it has been placed on life support, and its demise has been announced several times. Although we are witnessing an inevitable erosion of the sovereignist movement, both in Quebec and Ottawa, the Bloc Québécois has no intention of admitting defeat. What will the next election hold for this party, which has had its share of difficulties in recent years?
In 2011, the ever-charismatic Jack Layton reduced the Bloc Québécois to a handful of MPs, and in 2015, the party begged Gilles Duceppe to return and save the sinking ship. This was followed by Martine Ouellet’s short reign, which was marked by internal wars, rifts, betrayals and resignations. Not without first clinging to her leader’s job, Ms. Ouellet eventually resigned under the weight of internal and media pressure. The MPs who resigned returned to the fold, with significant consequences on the party’s cohesion.
Since no one was lining up for the job, earlier this year we witnessed the crowning of the Parti Québécois’s former Minister of the Environment, Yves-François Blanchet. An unexpected candidacy for a beleaguered party. Blanchet is well-known in Quebec, having acted as a political commentator on TV in recent years. A good communicator, Blanchet can also be feisty and incisive.
The arrival of the new leader at the head of the Bloc Québécois sparked a modest but sustained rise in polls. According to the latest polls, the Bloc’s support is hovering around 20%, much better than the 12% under Martine Ouellet. The Bloc’s ability to rise above this bar could have a significant impact on the campaign; each additional percentage point could result in winning electoral ridings.
One thing is certain: the Bloc needs to renew its political offer if it wishes to recover and win votes back. Three approaches will be decisive:
Align itself with the nationalism advocated by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)
The Bloc is fully aware that it has everything to gain by defending Quebec’s consensus and supporting the demands of Quebec Premier François Legault, whose party is very popular, rather than embodying the federal branch of an already weakened Parti Québécois. At the same time, the Bloc will need to recruit candidates outside of the traditional sovereignist circles (former PQ MNAs, defeated candidates) to ensure its renewal.
In addition, the Bloc can capitalize on the fact that it is the only party dedicated exclusively to defending Quebec’s interests. This will surely be a key issue of the campaign in Quebec. There are still many areas of contention between Ottawa and Quebec, and the situation has worsened since the arrival of the CAQ. Two visions are clashing: on one side, a multicultural Canada, and on the other, a nationalist Quebec that does however focus on cultural diversity and the integration of immigrants.
Insisting on the balance of power, which the Bloc Québécois could hold
In an election with unpredictable outcomes, the only way for the Bloc Québécois to have an influence on the conduct of business in Ottawa is to obtain the balance of power in a minority government. This argument will resonate with Quebec voters, who want to make sure they are heard in Ottawa.
Winning back NDP voters who turned their back in 2011 and 2015
The main reason why Quebec is an electoral battleground is because movement is expected among New Democrat supporters, who could give their vote to another camp. Will the social-democrat voters return to the Bloc Québécois? Could progressive sympathizers rally behind Justin Trudeau to stand in the way of the Conservatives? Will environmentalists be enticed by the rise of the Green Party?
Overall, the Bloc could cause some surprises if it becomes a refuge party for nationalists or federalist Quebeckers who are dissatisfied or unhappy with conventional federal parties.