Take a Bow Yves-François Blanchet – How the Bloc Québécois Changed Canada’s Political Landscape

Take a bow Yves-François Blanchet. Two days ago you changed the political landscape in Canada by changing the political landscape in Quebec.

Almost singlehandedly you revived the Bloc Québécois, taking it from ten seats to thirty-two and making it the third largest party in the House of Commons. And by doing that, you blocked the Trudeau Liberals hope of gaining more seats in Quebec to make up for seats they knew they would lose in other parts of Canada. Today Justin
Trudeau is still in power, but he is now in charge of a minority government that cannot alone control the House of Commons, having to search for at least one party to partner with on votes to get anything done.

The most likely partner for the Liberals going forward is the NDP. On the face of it, the NDP and its leader Jagmeet Singh should be furious with you Mr. Blanchet. First, you campaigned on the provincial legislation in your home province that bans wearing religious symbols when working in jobs in the public service in Quebec. Most Canadians in other provinces see this as a curb on religious freedom and contrary to the Charter of Rights. Some Quebec groups are challenging the law in the courts, but most Francophone Quebeckers support the legislation and see it as a legitimate way of maintaining their culture. For Mr. Singh, a turban wearing Sikh, it should be a particular personal affront, although for political reasons and the hope of support in Quebec, he and all the party leaders have soft pedalled their opposition.

But there can be no soft-pedaling the political impact of the Blanchet resurgence of the Bloc Québécois. In the election of 2011, it was the sudden emergence of Jack Layton and the NDP in Quebec that overnight lead to the virtual oblivion of the Bloc. In that election support for the Bloc collapsed and it all went to the NDP. That year the party won fifty-nine seats in the province, propelling them into the rarefied atmosphere of the Official Opposition in the House of Commons.

By 2015 things were partially returning to normal. The Trudeau led liberals won forty-five Quebec seats in Quebec and the NDP were down to fifteen. Then came this Monday night. In addition to the thirtytwo Bloc seats, the Liberals had thirty-four and the Conservatives ten. And the NDP? Just two elections after the “orange wave” and the fiftynine seat break-through, the NDP managed to save only one seat in the Province.

Now you might think the NDP and its leader would be livid at the Bloc and Mr. Blanchet, but they are not really. Although the party is almost wiped out in Quebec, finishing this election with twenty seats fewer than in 2015 and sitting in third place in the Commons to the resurgent Bloc, because of the results in Quebec, the Liberals are now in a minority and the NDP’s remaining 24 seats are just what they need to get legislation through the Commons and to control Parliamentary committees.

That means that even in their diminished circumstances, the NDP will have more clout in the House of Commons than at any time since 1973 and 1974. That is the last time a Liberal Prime Minister named Trudeau found himself in a minority situation and had to turn to the NDP for support.

Now history is repeating itself. Jagmeet Singh isn’t exactly steering the car, but he is in the front seat and he has brought his map.

The Bloc Québécois breakthrough on October 21st had some people worrying about a resurgence of separatism in Quebec. Those worries are overstated. For the most part, Quebeckers realize they have the best of both worlds; a Canadian passport and access to the world as Canadians, and something close to Sovereignty Association at home.
Besides, with the examples of Brexit and Catalonia in Spain, they have evidence of just how difficult leaving can be – particularly when any gains are either marginal or non-existent.

But the re-emergence of the Bloc Québécois means that going forward minority governments like the one created by this week’s election are likely to become the norm rather than the exception. The implications for that are far reaching and as yet uncertain.

In the meantime, take a bow Mr. Blanchet.