Last week, my colleague Niall made a very interesting observation: Harper’s Bill C-51 was designed, among other things, to attract Quebec voters who supported the Marois government’s ill-fated Charter of Quebec Values. For a few days, it seemed like that strategy just might pay off. After all, there was a poll done by Angus Reid that said 9 in 10 Quebecers supported the bill, and the current major Quebec parliamentary real estate holders, the NDP, were very much against it.
Now it looks like Harper’s Quebec roadmap may have hit two significant bumps. First, it looks like that poll wasn’t the type of broad-reaching, reliable, accurate and representative survey Angus is famous for. Instead, the 82% support nationwide approval for the bill, and the nine-in-ten Quebecer approval comes from an internal poll Angus did of members who signed up to its forum.
The second obstacle came last Thursday in the form of a backhanded endorsement of the Conservative government’s plans to appeal a court ruling permitting Muslim women to wear niquabs at citizenship hearings. The Bloc Quebecois released an ad online, depicting the House of Commons as seen through a niqab, and attacking Thomas Mulcair for coming out against Harper’s decision to appeal the ruling. It asked the question: “Do we have to hide our face to vote NDP?”
Bloc: Learning from the Wrong History
Desperate times call for dumbass measures, I guess. Since Mario Beaulieu (I seriously had to Google his name to make sure I had it right) took the reigns of the Bloc, he has made it clear that the way forward and back to relevance was through a hardline separatist approach to policy and messaging. Now, it seems like he has added xenophobia to the party platform in equal measure.
You can see the logic behind it: trying to be a progressive federal party with the interests of Quebec at heart didn’t cut it in 2011, and that’s why Gilles Duceppe lost in such a big way. To rebuild the Bloc, they needed a completely different approach.
If Beaulieu and company had looked, instead, to the defeat of the Parti-Quebecois in 2014, they would have realized that their new approach was the exact same mix that brought down Pauline Marois. And she was a sitting premier with considerable backing and exposure. What makes the Bloc think that they, with just two seats in the House of Commons and a general feeling of irrelevance, are in a better position to make this approach work?
It Could Have Worked for Harper
Appealing to the bigotry of some Quebecers by scapegoating the Muslim “other” is a strategy that took another Mario, the ADQ’s Dumont, all the way to Quebec Leader of the Oppositon in 2007. His party’s ambiguity on the national question along with an openly gay PQ leader (Andre Boisclair) made it easy for him to scoop up the right-wing nationalist part of the PQ’s base, leaving them with only the other half, the progressive sovereigntists, and a third-party placement. Marois appealing to the bigots produced an almost identical result.
If opposition status in Quebec is what you’re after, then xenophobia is the way to go. The problem for the Bloc is their goal isn’t that. It is (or at least it should be) to sweep most of Quebec and be the opposition, or close to it, in Ottawa.
Harper, on the other hand, isn’t looking to sweep Quebec. He just needs to bring out enough of the people who supported the Charter and get them to vote Conservative. For him, a Quebec roadmap that leads to opposition status in the province is perfect, as it may help him secure a second majority overall.
Now, though, it looks like the Bloc may be throwing a spike into those plans. No matter what side of the political spectrum they find themselves on, Quebecers generally don’t like Harper. If he pushes the right xenophobic buttons, though, some may hold their collective noses and vote for him. The Bloc is giving them a way out.
By effectively competing for and possibly splitting the hard-right xenophobic vote in Quebec, they may be helping out the NDP and Liberals in ways they hadn’t planned to. Planning, though, doesn’t seem to be the Bloc’s strong suit these days.
The Sad Truth
While my instinct might be to laugh and cheer, it’s actually really sad. Regardless of what you think of a separatist party running federally in Canada, the Bloc, at least under Gilles Duceppe, was a party that wanted to be on the right side of history.
I liked Duceppe as a leader and always enjoyed his role in English debates. He didn’t care, so he said what he felt. He was willing to form a coalition with the NDP and the Liberals, when it was the right thing to do. He stood up against Harper’s more damaging ideas.
I’m not saying I would have voted for him, in fact I once lived in his riding and was very proud that my vote was against him, which seemed like a wasted ballot at the time, helped unseat him during the Orange Wave. But at least he had integrity and stood up for progressive ideals, when they didn’t conflict with his ultimate gameplan, that is.
Now, that Bloc is dead. The Bloc of ex-Mulroney MPs that Lucien Bouchard started is dead, too. While Bouchard’s Bloc was economically conservative, at least they weren’t Harperite right-wing reactionaries. What we’re left with is an ultra-nationalist version of the ADQ operating at the federal level. It’s a joke, sure, but it’s also a sad end to a party that did have a purpose.
If blocking Harper (pun unavoidable) from gaining any type of tangible foohold in Quebec is their legacy, so be it. It’s just a rather undignified end for a party that once stood for something other than the lowest common denominator of bigots in Quebec.
In their latest and possibly final attempt at relevance, the Bloc just killed its soul.