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Jack Layton gives thumbs up to the crowd at a campaign rally in Gatineau, Quebec, April 25, 2011 (PATRICK DOYLE/Patrick Doyle/Reuters)
Jack Layton gives thumbs up to the crowd at a campaign rally in Gatineau, Quebec, April 25, 2011 (PATRICK DOYLE/Patrick Doyle/Reuters)

Lysiane Gagnon

Quebeckers have a mental Bloc Add to ...

The Bloc Québécois might be near-extinct, but its philosophy is still very much alive in Quebec. It is striking to see how many people naively assume that the NDP, because the majority of its caucus comes from Quebec, will take up the role of the Bloc and "defend first and foremost" the interests of Quebec.

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At her first press conference, last Wednesday, Nycole Turmel, the new MP for Hull-Aylmer, was asked by reporters whether Quebec would be her party's "first priority." A seasoned public figure (she was a labour leader for years), Ms. Turmel calmly explained that yes, Quebec would be a priority but not the only one, and that the interests of Quebeckers and Canadians are not contradictory. Mind you, she was talking to reporters who cover politics and who should know that the NDP is a federal party that can't speak for just one province.

Shortly after the vote, NDP Leader Jack Layton was interviewed (for the second time in a month) on the popular Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle. Host Guy A. Lepage, a former stand-up comic who thinks of himself as a connoisseur of politics, asked whether he would be Quebec's point man in Ottawa. Mr. Layton evaded the question.

During a radio panel on the election, Christiane Charette, the host of another Radio-Canada talk show, joyously exclaimed that "the NDP will be another Bloc Québécois!" And La Presse ran this headline: "Layton, the new strong man of Quebec" - in other words, the new Gilles Duceppe. These reactions are symptomatic of the way many francophone Quebeckers have internalized the Bloc's mentality. After having lived for 20 years inside a Bloc bubble, they've lost any understanding of what a federation is and how federal parties work.

Another symptom of this "Bloc philosophy" is that, judging by the blogs and the commentaries in the media, few seem to mind that Quebec is virtually shut out of government since the Conservatives won just six seats (out of 75) in the province. Indeed, for 20 years, the Bloc kept repeating that in federal politics, it's better to be in the opposition, since all governments (according to the Bloc) fail Quebec.

Quebeckers now expect that the NDP will morph into a clone of the Bloc. Because he owes part of his victory to Quebec, it is expected that Mr. Layton will forget his real ambition, which is to become prime minister of Canada, and will be happy to serve as the full-time champion of Quebec. If these foolish expectations don't diminish with time, Quebeckers' disappointment with the NDP will be huge - and the big bubbling orange wave will quickly dissolve before the next election.

This misunderstanding of federal politics is the legacy of the Bloc Québécois. Its goal was not to achieve sovereignty, something that can only be done at the provincial level. It was to pave the way for sovereignty by loosening Quebec's ties with the rest of Canada, by convincing Quebeckers that Canada is a foreign if not hostile entity and by provoking resentment toward Quebec in the rest of Canada.

By focusing exclusively on Quebec's "interests" and acting as if the province was constantly under threat, the Bloc killed all the reflexes that help sustain a federation: the will to exchange, negotiate and compromise, the capacity to understand other people's viewpoints, the capacity to give and take.

In this sense, the Bloc can proudly say: Mission accomplished! Whether Quebec becomes independent or not, for the time being, federalism is dead in Quebec.

 

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