'Renewed' Bloc Quebecois launches nationalist, Quebec-only election campaign
QUEBEC -- The Bloc Quebecois is counting on a renewed and unabashed nationalism in Quebec society to rekindle interest in the party.
As Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet launched his party's campaign Wednesday in Quebec City, he told supporters his party will never form government -- it is only fielding candidates in Quebec's 78 federal ridings.
Instead, Blanchet said, his campaign will attempt to persuade enough nationalist Quebecers to vote for the party to send a strong contingent to Ottawa to fight "exclusively" for Quebec's interests.
Quebecers have flirted with the Conservatives, the New Democrats and most recently, the Liberals, Blanchet said, but he maintained those parties have either hurt Quebec's interests or brought little to the province's voters.
"The best scenario isn't to be in government," he told reporters, surrounded by some of the new faces running for the party. "It's about having elected people who will force the Canadian government -- no matter what kind it is -- to act for Quebec and to respect Quebec."
Blanchet, a staunch Quebec sovereigntist, said independence can only be achieved at the provincial level. But in the meantime, he said, the Bloc is needed in Ottawa to represent the nationalist values that embody the Quebecois nation.
He described Quebec values as including state secularism, equality of the sexes, abortion rights, "prudent and generous" immigration," as well as a profound attachment to the French language.
Those values are being promoted by a provincial government in Quebec, he said, that "for the first time in a while, and in a majority context, is affirming an unabashed nationalism, which feels quite good."
Blanchet gave a taste of what his campaign would be like in his defence on Wednesday of Quebec's secularism law. Bill 21 prohibits some public sector workers such as teachers and police officers from wearing religious symbols at work.
The law is being challenged in court, and its critics say the legislation targets Muslim women and violates the rights of religious minorities.
When Justin Trudeau launched the Liberal campaign earlier on Wednesday, he said he is happy the law is being challenged, adding that his government wouldn't get involved before the courts "at this time."
Blanchet called Trudeau's words a direct "attack" on Quebec values. He said the idea of state secularism is a "progressive value inherited from the Quiet Revolution."
The Bloc may have a new leader, more money than in years past and a fresh stable of candidates, but Blanchet's message is similar to what former leaders have pitched to Quebecers.
Conservative party Leader Andrew Scheer reminded voters Wednesday at his campaign launch in Trois-Rivieres, Que., that "Bloc members of Parliament will always be powerless spectators."
Blanchet told reporters the Bloc has always served Quebec well, even during the party's difficult times.
A little over a year ago, the party's controversial leader, Martine Ouellet, resigned after a tumultuous reign that saw seven of the party's 10 MPs resign from caucus because of her leadership style. All seven have since returned.
Blanchet is betting Quebecers are tired of voting for candidates tied to parties that have allegiances across the country. Instead, he is hoping Quebecers will be buoyed by an increased sense of nationalism that will push them to choose people who are solely dedicated to one province.
"The election is about choosing who will carry our voice, who will be loyal to what we are, to what you are -- not as a province, but indeed, as a nation," Blanchet said. "People in whom you will recognize yourselves. People who are like you, who are for you. Who will speak for Quebec?"