Pierre Paquette, a former Bloc Québécois MP and an economist in the labour movement, had the choice between becoming leader of the Bloc or running for the Parti Québécois. He ignored those who wanted him to save the Bloc from oblivion and will be the PQ candidate in the riding of L’Assomption, a nationalist stronghold.
Mr. Paquette’s decision makes sense: If the PQ wins, he’ll probably become a cabinet minister. Still, his staunch refusal even to consider the Bloc leadership is indicative of the fate facing the party, which once held the bulk of Quebec’s federal seats. In a recent CROP survey, half of Quebec voters, including one sovereigntist in three, think that the Bloc is not relevant any more.
The party’s support in the province is still higher than that of the Conservative Party – which doesn’t say much – but the Bloc now faces two powerful new adversaries: the 57-seat-strong NDP and the Justin Trudeau Liberals. The Bloc has had zero visibility since the resignation of its former leader Gilles Duceppe. With the Bloc caucus reduced to four, Mr. Duceppe’s successor, Daniel Paillé, who didn’t have a seat in Parliament, had such a low profile that in a Léger poll conducted last fall, half of the Quebec population didn’t even know who he was.
When Mr. Paillé resigned before Christmas for health reasons, nobody who was anybody in Quebec politics was interested in the party’s leadership. Even Mr. Duceppe, a reluctant retiree who misses the action, decided he would rather stay home.
The two Bloc MPs who intend to run at the leadership convention, scheduled for May, have even less visibility than Mr. Paillé.
Many high-profile sovereigntists wish the Bloc would disappear for good: It can’t do anything for Quebec, they say, and it’s a nuisance for the sovereigntist movement, since sovereignty can only be decided in Quebec. “The Bloc has become a haven for [those] who want a federal pension,” blurted Yves Michaud, an outspoken sovereigntist who was René Lévesque’s best friend.
There will be another stumbling block for the Bloc (no pun intended). When the 2015 federal election comes, the party will find itself dirt poor, since public subsidies, based on earlier election results, have been dramatically reduced and will be entirely eliminated next year.
The Bloc will have to pass around the hat among its sympathizers, something it never had to do during the golden years when high voter support filled its coffers to the brim.
The Bloc was actually able to build a war chest, since its electoral expenses were much lower than those of the other parties. The Bloc campaigned only in Quebec, so its leader could tour the province by bus while other federal leaders had to crisscross Canada by air. While the other parties had to pay for propaganda material in two languages for the whole country, the Bloc only had to advertise in French in 75 ridings.
For years, the federal party was the PQ’s benefactor. In provincial elections, the Bloc’s well-paid staff would volunteer for the PQ campaigns.
Now, faced with a thin budget, the Bloc will need logistical help from the PQ. Worse, it will have to compete with the PQ for donations, since both parties rely on the same pool of sovereignty sympathizers.
If the PQ wins a majority in the next provincial election, which might be called this coming spring, it could pave the way for yet another sovereignty referendum in 2015 or 2016, and the sovereigntists will put their money where their heart and their hopes are – at the provincial level.