Bloc Quebecois to regain party status in decisive resurgence
The Bloc Québécois is poised to regain official party status in the House of Commons following a remarkable resurgence that has seen the once-faltering party take seats away from the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP.
The Quebec party won 34 seats out of the 78 in Quebec, as party support under Yves-François Blanchet’s leadership surged over the course of the 40-day campaign.
The Bloc will more than triple its presence in Parliament, which Blanchet hopes will be enough to give it leverage when negotiating for support with Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government. The Bloc had 10 seats prior to this election.
"We are coming back from far, but we will go even further," said Blanchet in a victory speech late Monday evening, and thanking his small team for achieving an "impossible" campaign.
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The Bloc was still in shambles a year ago; its revival comes after languishing for nearly a decade without official status after it won fewer than the requisite 12 seats in the last two federal elections.
Blanchet, who only stepped in as party leader a little over 10 months ago, campaigned by appealing to Quebec pride and underscoring his understanding of Quebec priorities, to win over voters despite low support for Quebec independence.
He has attributed the party’s resurgence to growing Quebec nationalism, and he has positioned himself as the only leader whose sole focus in Ottawa would be to represent and lobby for Quebec rights and values.
It was a strategy that appeared effective as Liberals and Conservatives struggled to gain traction in the province throughout the campaign, while the NDP fought to hang on to the 14 seats it held in the province at the time of dissolution.
"No party tonight can take control of the House of Commons," Blanchet said of the new minority government. Blanchet told supporters the party did not wish to form a government nor participate in one, but was open, on merit, to collaborating with any government.
"If what is proposed is good for Quebec, you can count on us."
Blanchet warned that if a proposal went against the province’s interest, however, the party would stand in the way, and that Quebec would not compromise on its values, including the secularization of its public institutions.
BILL 21 CONTROVERSY
Secularism is an important issue among francophones. Early this summer, the province passed Bill 21, a secularism law that bars anyone working for the government in positions of authority -- including police officers, teachers, judges -- from donning religious symbols such as yarmulkes for Jewish men and hijabs for Muslim women, while at work.
The bill is very popular and has significant support within Quebec, but is extremely contentious outside the province. The city of Calgary, for example, passed a motion formally opposing the bill.
Despite disapproving the secularism law, most party leaders were reluctant to weigh in too much on the bill during the campaign for fear of alienating the valuable and voter-rich province. Trudeau was the only candidate who would not rule out the possibility of intervening on the bill at a later stage.
Blanchet, who is 53, took the seat for his riding in Beloeil-Chambly, which was held by NDP Matthew Dubé, in a decisive win with more than 50 per cent of the vote at last count.
A number of other ridings saw tight races between the Bloc and other party candidates.
The party’s Guy Bernatchez battled with Liberal incumbent Diane Lebouthillier in the riding of Gaspésie–Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine. At one point, the two candidates were separated by less than 100 votes. Lebouthillier, a cabinet minister in the previous government narrowly won by only a few hundred votes at last count.
In the riding of Berthier-Maskinongé, the Bloc’s Yves Perron was ahead by about 1,500 votes against NDP incumbent Ruth Ellen Brosseau.
A DECADE FLOUNDERING
Formed in 1991, the Bloc was a voice at the federal level for Quebec separatists. But in 2011, the party suffered a devastating loss under the leadership of Gilles Duceppe, giving up nearly all 50 of the seats it held at dissolution, with the bulk of the lost seats going to the NDP in what was dubbed the “Orange Wave”. With only four elected members out of the province’s then-75 spots, the Bloc lost its status as a "recognized party" for the first time in its history.
The party saw some marginal improvements during the last election in 2015, but with only 10 elected members out of 78 seats, the Bloc was still not officially recognized in parliament.
Expectations were low for the Bloc Québécois heading into these elections. But with support for the NDP eroding in the province, a number of seats were in contention with party leaders all vying to win over Quebec voters. The NDP is expected to lose all but one of its seats in the province.
In Quebec, the party’s comeback currently puts it just behind the Liberals, who won or are leading in 35 Quebec ridings. Nationally, the Bloc’s results also puts it ahead of the NDP, which won 24 seats.