MONTREAL — The Bloc Quebecois made big gains Monday night and leapfrogged the NDP to become the second opposition in the House of Commons, and yet the results were bittersweet for the party.
Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet called the Bloc’s campaign “victorious,” but his speech to party faithful reflected the inherent sadness Quebec sovereigntists — including him — feel with the state of their movement.
“For this time,” he told the crowd of a couple of hundred supported in an east-end Montreal theatre, “the realization of sovereignty is not in our mandate.”
The renewed support for his party, he had explained multiple times on the campaign trail, was due to a rekindled sense of nationalism among Quebecers and a desire to have the decisions of the provincial legislature respected.
With almost all polls reporting, the party was declared elected in 32 of the province’s 78 ridings, a significant jump from the 10 it won last election and a result that allows the Bloc to regain official party status in the House of Commons.
The party’s resurgence in Quebec was a key factor preventing the Liberals from winning a second majority, meaning they will need at least one other party’s support to pass legislation in a minority Parliament.
Blanchet said during the campaign that he hoped a strong contingent of Bloc MPs would hold the balance of power in a minority government and force the governing party to make concessions that would benefit Quebec.
He said Monday he doesn’t think Canadians or Quebecers want a short-lived minority government. “They asked us to work together,” he said, adding that his party would “collaborate” with the government, but only if it’s good for Quebec’s interests.
“The Bloc doesn’t want to form government,” he said. “But the Bloc can collaborate with any government. If what is proposed is good for Quebec, you can count on us. If what is proposed is bad for Quebec — then we’ll stand in the way.”
The crowd at party election headquarters was young and boisterous. And some in the audience reflected a new nationalism in Quebec that doesn’t necessarily translate into a desire for independence.
“I’m more nationalist than sovereigntist,” said Louis-Philippe Boivin, 20. “I think the rise of the Bloc is due to differences in opinions of the other leaders. No one else represented us.”
Blanchet’s forces made gains mostly at the expense of the Liberals and NDP, including in the symbolic Lac-Saint-Jean riding won by Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, the son of former Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe.
Widely considered moribund a little more than a year ago, the sovereigntist federal party and its members are hoping gains made Monday will eventually lead to a resurgence of a Quebec independence movement that has been on the decline for years.
As soon as election results began indicating Bloc gains, supporters at election night headquarters in an east-end Montreal theatre began chanting, “We want a country!”
But Blanchet campaigned on a platform that affirmed Quebec nationhood while downplaying independence from Canada. He repeatedly told reporters on the campaign trail that electoral success wouldn’t mean he had a mandate to push for sovereignty.
Blanchet’s main pitch to Quebecers was asking them to send Bloc members to Ottawa who would fight exclusively for Quebec’s interests among a sea of federally minded politicians with loyalties across the country.
The Bloc also positioned itself as the only party that would champion Quebec’s popular secularism law, which bans some public sector workers from wearing religious symbols on the job.
While the Bloc’s success during the campaign seemed to have surprised many across Canada, party members had a good feeling about their chances before the election began.
Weeks before the start of the campaign, Bloc members spoke about how the “stars were aligned” for the party to regain relevance in federal politics. A major reason for the optimism, they explained, was the 2018 provincial election that brought a majority Coalition Avenir Quebec government to power.
Headed by the unabashedly nationalist Francois Legault, the Coalition government quickly fulfilled major promises the premier described as affirming the Quebecois peoples’ nationhood. Legault’s government significantly scaled back immigration and adopted Bill 21, a law that bans teachers and some other public sector workers from wearing religious symbols at work.
Legault made his presence felt during the campaign, demanding that all party leaders promise not to challenge Bill 21, which was heavily criticized outside francophone Quebec for discriminating against religious minorities.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau refused, and Blanchet quickly saw an opening. For the rest of the campaign, the Bloc leader positioned himself against the Liberals and their leader.
And where Trudeau and the other leaders had loyalties across the country that sometimes conflicted with those of Quebec, Blanchet left no doubt as to where his loyalty stood.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 21, 2019
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press