Monsieur Blanchet’s Tour de Force

Column/Don Newman

Oct. 26, 2019

Monsieur Blanchet’s Tour de Force Column/Don Newman Take a bow, Yves-François Blanchet. In the federal election on October 21 st , you changed the political landscape in Canada by changing the political landscape in Québec.

Almost singlehandedly, you have revived the Bloc Québécois, taking it from ten seats to thirty-two and making it the third largest party in the House of Commons. You blocked the Trudeau Liberals’ hopes of gaining more seats in Québec to make up for seats they knew they would lose in other parts of Canada. Today, Justin Trudeau is still in power, but he is now in charge of a minority government that cannot alone control the House of Commons, and instead has to search for at least one party to partner with on votes to get anything done.

While some Québec groups are challenging the province’s secular clothing law —which was played as a litmus test during the campaign — in the courts, most francophones support the legislation and see it as a legitimate way of maintaining their culture. For NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, a turban-wearing Sikh, the law should be a particular personal affront, although for political reasons and the hope of support in Québec, he and all the party leaders soft-pedalled their opposition during the campaign.

But there can be no soft-pedalling the political impact of the Blanchet resurgence of the Bloc Québécois. Think of recent history. In the election of 2011, it was the sudden emergence of Jack Layton and the NDP in Québec that overnight lead to the virtual oblivion of the Bloc. In that election, support for the Bloc collapsed and it all went to the NDP. That year, the party won 59 seats in the province, propelling it to Official Opposition status in the House of Commons.

By 2015, things were partially returning to normal. The Trudeau-led liberals won 45 Québec seats in Québec and the NDP were down to fifteen. Then came this election. In addition to the 32 Bloc seats, the Liberals won 34 and the Conservatives, 10. And the NDP? Just two elections after the “Orange Wave” and the 59- seat breakthrough, the NDP managed to save only one seat in the province.

So, you might think the NDP and its leader would be livid at the Bloc and Mr. Blanchet. Not really, although the party is almost wiped out in Québec, finished this election with 20 seats fewer than in 2015 and surrendered third place in the Commons to the resurgent bloc. But occasionally you can win by losing, and for the NDP this is one of those times. Because of the results in Québec, the Liberals are now in a minority and the NDP’s remaining 24 seats are just what they need to get legislation through the Commons and to control Parliamentary committees.

That means that even in their diminished circumstances, the NDP will have more clout in the House of Commons than at any time since 1973 and 1974. That is the last time a Liberal prime minister named Trudeau found himself in a minority situation and had to turn to the NDP for support. Now, history is repeating itself. Singh isn’t exactly steering the car, but he is in the front seat. And he has brought his map.

The return of the Bloc Québecois has some people worried about the resurgence of separatism in Québec. Those worries are overstated. For the most part, Québeckers realize they have the best of both worlds; a Canadian passport, access to the world as Canadians, and something close to sovereignty association at home. Besides, with the examples of Brexit and Catalonia in Spain, they have evidence of just how difficult leaving can be — particularly when any potential gains are marginal or non- existent.

But the re-emergence of the Bloc Québecois does mean that, if its apparent popularity endures, it will be harder for other pan-Canadian parties to form majority governments. The implications for that are far-reaching and as yet uncertain, although for the NDP perhaps less unsettling than some others.

We will have to wait to see how that scenario will work out. But In the meantime, take a bow, Mr. Blanchet.

Policy columnist Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Navigator and Ensight Canada and a lifetime member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.