This decade has been a deeply troubling one for the Bloc Quebecois. The humiliations of the 2011 and 2015 elections have made the party very plainly marked with nostalgia, not just for the days of Lucien Bouchard or Jacques Parizeau, but anyone who could lead the party without creating a factional divide or electoral thumping.
Until a few weeks ago, separatism, and the Bloc Quebecois along with it, had been considered dead. Although the 2015 election saw some improvement for the party, they still fell two seats short of official party status.
The Bloc’s abrupt frailty in this decade has been placed on their inability to stop banging on about separation and independence referendums. There is now an inertia in Quebec with separatism that the Bloc failed to perceive or adapt to. This, alongside Jack Layton’s folksy charisma cast the Bloc Quebecois into a lonely irrelevance.
The 2018 provincial election only seemed to confirm this diagnosis. The CAQ, which is composed of many ex-separatist politicians, stormed to power on a ticket that could hardly be bothered with separatism at all. The polling only corroborated this, with 82 percent of Quebecois now stating that separatism was a non-issue.
In many ways, the CAQ’s roaring success has served as a bitter lesson to the Bloc. Although separatism is indeed a “non-issue,” nationalism, and a desire for greater sovereignty certainly is not. Francois Legault’s CAQ capitalized on this sentiment, pledging to protect Quebec in Canada whilst creating demagogic policy (Note the secularism bill).
The efficacy of this strategy is plain. A year after Quebec’s provincial election, the CAQ remains a deeply popular party amongst the Quebecois, with a 74% approval rating.
The Bloc’s leader, Yves-François Blanchet, has evidently understood this new phenomenon. He has meticulously copied the CAQ’s 2018 manifesto and has defended the actions of Quebec’s government in the debates to an irritated Canada.
If the polling is correct, Blanchet’s plagiarism has been entirely successful. In national polls, the Bloc are nearly two whole points higher than their polling in 2015. And so, if Canada discovers there is no majority tomorrow, Blanchet may find himself as the kingmaker.
There are, perhaps, other explanations for the Bloc’s success. For the more cynical amongst us, their success has to do with the NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh. The NDP leader is, of course, the first minority leader in Canada’s history. Many have argued that Quebec is simply “just not ready” for a brown Prime Minister.
Nevertheless, if these polls are correct, and Blanchet’s Bloc Quebecois does as well as they are expected to, then Canadians across the country should clench their jaw in concern. Separatist sentiment is unpredictable— it waxes and wanes naturally, and can explode through seemingly innocuous events. Catalonia and Scotland have made this starkly clear.
Whatever your opinion of Legault and Blanchet may be, it is necessary to understand that they are deeply sophisticated politicians, willing to capitalize on the inevitable shifting of separatist sentiment within Quebec.
If tomorrow, the Quebecois choose to elect a strong separatist party into Ottawa, supported by an equally strong CAQ in Quebec City (whose opinions on separatism are far less clear) then we have to be prepared that separatism is much more alive than we think.